year in review

The Year Oscar Isaac Destroyed Us

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: HBO, Warner Bros., Getty Images

The cycle of internet boyfriends-slash-husbands has been too difficult to keep up with lately, but I feel there’s one man who stands out every year as the dominant obsession. In the past, this person has been distinguished by his huge body, hot chain, or clerical collar, but the person I believe to be this year’s crush has none of these gimmicks — he is simply captivating. I’m speaking, of course, of Oscar Isaac, the most beguiling man of 2021.

How has he maintained such a choke hold on our collective psyches? It’s true he’s everywhere, having blitzed everyone with the release of The Card Counter, Dune, and Scenes From a Marriage. But omnipresence doesn’t equal appeal. One of my theories is that he has a lick of Old Hollywood, a debonair air that speaks to a world of forgotten romantic possibilities. Part of that may just be his face (mostly his eyebrows), which, like Clark Gable’s, makes even his casual expressions look intimate (see here). There’s also his ability to sound sexy in several languages, like an expat in a Hemingway novel.

Idris Elba has something of this quality. George Clooney did too, before his reclusive tequila-dad era, while Chris Pratt has the opposite. I can’t really name it, but I’d just say you know it when you see it. “He makes me want to learn how to ballroom dance, I can’t explain it,” said one out-of-touch friend, who doesn’t even know who Isaac is, when shown a photo of him.

Isaac’s onscreen work seems to bolster this sensual yet dreamy effect. As my colleague Andrea González-Ramírez pointed out, “Career-wise, the dudes he often plays are either written as explicitly sensitive men (Llewyn Davis) or look like sensitive men (Poe Dameron).” (Except, she notes, in Ex Machina, “where he plays an extremely sexy piece of shit,” which only proves his range.) Still, where Isaac really seems to shine is off-screen, as when he earnestly performs his folksy guitar music or pauses an interview to sing softly in Spanish:

And then there are moments that don’t hinge on his talent or looks but seem to rely on that certain gallant something I mentioned earlier. I mean, is it even possible to watch that red-carpet video of him kissing Jessica Chastain’s armpit without feeling undressed? There’s a kind of gall to the whole affair that shocks and electrifies, even more so because the kiss is not the most intimate part. Rather, it’s the way he looks at her — the directness of his gaze is startling and very hot:

When I asked around about Isaac’s allure, his smolder seemed to be a major point of attraction. “There’s something about his eyes, the way he looks at you. It’s fatherly but also, like, daddy, you know?” said a friend. “The smolder — the little forehead crease between his eyes,” another friend, Jeevika, wrote in the group chat referring to this image. “Yeah, I feel like he makes really good eye contact,” wrote my colleague Emilia Petrarca when I asked her about Isaac, which is really all you have to say when one considers that his eyes look like this:

Photo: Neilson Barnard/WireImage

Smolder is an expression that relies on the eyes but, I believe, involves the whole face as well as one’s soul. I think my friend Nika illustrated the effect best: “His frown-smile is like being in a crowded room and you both know you’re about to bang one out in the hotel room upstairs but no one else in the room can know.” She added, “But also the world is ending tomorrow, so it’s your last night on earth. It’s the drama of it all.”

So the smolder is powerful, the vibe is dashing — and these are only a few reasons Oscar Isaac is the most appealing man on the planet right now. But for those of you who still have doubts, I’ll leave you with this video of him talking about Scotch in Spanish. ¡Salud!

The Year Oscar Isaac Destroyed Us All