Every publication has its own end-of-year traditions. But the New York Times Magazine has a particularly strange one: honoring the year’s best actors by casting them in seemingly random videos that tell us little about their actual talents. I’m not sure why they do this, but hey, tradition!
For five years running, the magazine has produced thematically linked, mostly wordless videos with occasionally over-the-top orchestration. In 2010, it was “Actors Acting.” (You may remember the video of James Franco talking to himself, though we didn’t get to hear any actual words.) In 2011 it was “Touch of Evil,” or, as I like to think of it, Brad Pitt electrocuted. 2012 was “Wide Awake,” aka Olivia Pope drinking orange juice. Last year’s “Making a Scene” was all about monologues, and was actually fairly watchable: Actors were paired with the year’s best screenwriters, resulting in Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ perfect delivery of “Yes, I’m wearing a wig.” The results in that case felt like well-realized short films.
But this year the magazine has returned to its wordless ways, and the theme is kissing. Yes, kissing. (Maybe they were inspired by that sweet viral video that was actually a clothing ad full of models?) In the roughly minute-long videos you can see some of your favorite actors kissing each other—it’s basically Spin the Bottle with famous people, or fan fiction that’s been acted out for your viewing pleasure. It is hilarious and awkward and makes no sense. Which is why I decided to rank the results from bafflingly terrible to not really all that bad, if you’re feeling generous.
9. Benedict Cumberbatch and Reese Witherspoon, dressed in costumes, kiss in the bushes. The actors look even more uncomfortable than you will.
8. Shailene Woodley kisses her sparring partner, Jack O’Connell, on the cheek after punching him in the face. He gets a bit giddy, she keeps punching him.
7. Kristen Stewart jumps rockstar Chadwick Boseman after showing her full range of emotions—cry face, excited face—and then runs away.
6. Jason Schwartzman at his Jason Schwartzman-iest kisses Patricia Arquette’s beret. She returns the favor by kissing him on the nose and leaving a lipstick smudge. Honestly, I think Wes Anderson already made this movie.
5. David Oyelowo and Timothy Spall arm wrestle. Spall kisses Oyelowo in order to win. Insert inappropriate joke about striking a blow for race relations.
4. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Miles Teller have a runaway bride/groom kiss. Sort of romantic? At least Miles Teller has a funny mustache!
3. Rosario Dawson and Jenny Slate share a New Year’s kiss. Your co-workers will ask you what you’re watching and you will blush. (This actually happened to a colleague in Slate’s New York office. “It’s the New York Times!” he shouted, defensively.) They are the only two people in any of these videos who look like they’re having any fun, which is not at all surprising.
2. John Lithgow and Julianne Moore do some disco dancing and hip bumping. He kisses her on the arm, they keep dancing. Honestly, I would watch anything either of them are in, except for maybe a 3rd Rock From the Sun revival. (It’s not as good as this, but then nothing is as good as that.)
1. Laura Dern and Steve Carell kiss on a park bench. Classic and sweet with just a smidgen of raunch. You will feel the least uncomfortable watching this one.