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The Cougar Bandwagon

Laughs and suspense mix when tomboy FBI agent Sandra Bullock poses as Miss New Jersey in a beauty contest in order to stop a terrorist from blowing up the pageant. Turning the ungainly and unfeminine Bullock into a believable contestant, even with help from glamour consultant Michael Caine, could be more difficult than catching the bomber!

Sandra Bullock has fallen in love with so many men, she could give Elizabeth Taylor a run for her money. Let us count the ways: There was the time she was an FBI agent posing undercover as a beauty-pageant contestant and ended up under the covers with her partner (Miss Congeniality). Or when she tried to quit her job as a lawyer, only to be seduced by her nasty British boss (Two Weeks Notice). Or when she worked as a subway fare collector who rescued an unconscious man who had amnesia, pretended to be his fiancee and actually decided she'd rather marry his brother (While You Were Sleeping). Whoa. Falling in love like that can really wear you down, and Bullock certainly has the years to show for it. She's up to her same bag of tricks in the new romantic comedy The Proposal, in which she plays a bitchy Canadian book editor who pretends to be engaged to her assistant so that she can get a work visa to stay in America. There's a new wrinkle this time, though, and we're not talking about Sandra's face. Her love interest in the film is Ryan Reynolds. In real life, he's 32. Bullock is (care to guess?) 44 years young. But shh - don't tell anyone. The plot doesn't even mention the age difference, the studio wouldn't talk about it in an interview and Bullock even gets naked for the first time on the big screen, as if to say, "Look at me, I've still got sex appeal."

Hollywood used to put women over the age of 40 in the retirement home, while old dudes like Sean Connery kept seducing ever-younger babes like Catherine Zeta-Jones. That started changing when HBO let not-so-young actresses steal the TV spotlight in shows like Sex and the City, and major and cable networks followed by casting Sally Field, Glenn Close and Kyra Sedgwick in dramas, among others. In Cheri, Michelle Pfeiffer (51) returns to the big screen and jumps into the sack with a guy about half her age, Rupert Friend (27). In My Life in Ruins, Nia Vardalos (46) romances the Greek actor Alexis Georgoulis (34), and there's not a word of dialogue in the screenplay about her robbing the cradle. In Julie & Julia, Meryl Streep (who turns 60 on June 22) plays real-life kitchen cougar Julia Child. Mr. Julia Child is played by Stanley Tucci, 11 years younger than his leading lady; the real Paul Child was older than his wife. And we're not even counting The Rebound, Catherine Zeta-Jones's (39) September movie about dating a 25-year-old guy, the Courteney Cox TV show Cougartown or the Bachelor-like reality dating show The Cougar.

Demi Moore and Katie Couric aren't to blame for all this, and Hollywood insiders are pleading innocence, claiming that they aren't necessarily trying to hop on the cougar bandwagon. "The simple truth is, I like the script very much," says Stephen Frears, director of Cheri. "I keep being told about this phenomenon. We live much more respectable lives in England."

But as plastic surgery and Botox have gone mainstream, women are able to look younger, making some of these romances seem marginally believable. Vardalos says she didn't even realize her costar's age difference until the night before she started shooting. "I just started laughing," she says. "We recently baptized our daughter, and our priest used holy water. Aha! This is why Greek women never age; we're dipped in olive oil at birth."

Another reason why we're seeing more onscreen romances between older women and younger guys is probably more subtle. It's widely acknowledged that Hollywood has a hard time these days churning out stars - blame special effects or TMZ destroying careers by making all actors into overnight celebrities - but even so, there really isn't an actress in her 20s who can open a movie. Just ask Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Biel, Natalie Portman or Jessica Simpson. Someone like Sandra Bullock is still a brand in Hollywood, and even if she's had a recent string of flops, there's still hope she can sell out theaters.

But that raises the question: are cougars really what women want to be? Last year was a landmark one for women at the U.S. box office - Sex and the City: The Movie had the biggest opening ever for a chick flick, and Twilight boasted the best weekend numbers for a film directed by a woman. But Hollywood still seems confused about what kinds of material to market to women. The trailer for Cox's Cougartown, in which she portrays a sex-starved housewife, is so tone-deaf that the show will probably be canceled faster than Joey. Most real women in their 40s are likely too busy focusing on their careers, their families or both to be chasing after men who are only slightly older than the phenomenon of Internet dating.

Ultimately, the cougar may seem like a frightening creature, but with a second look, it becomes clear that it's more a media-driven fad, a fantasy that worked with Samantha and Smith on SATC - but even that didn't last. Nor did Gabrielle Solis and her boy-toy gardener on Desperate Housewives. Nor the archetypal cougar and her prey: Mrs. Robinson (played by Anne Bancroft, who was really only six years older than her costar Dustin Hoffman). Here's to you, Hollywood, for trying something old and something new. But by next year at this time, the cougar will probably be extinct.

Those smoldering eyes, that seductive smile, those pants-tightening monthly checks from the AARP, sure they may not all be grandmas, but these older ladies have still got it. We realize we may be in the minority thinking that older woman are fantastic but we do, ok, so deal with it.

Even though Beverly D'Angelo's part was, essentially, Susan Sarandon's from Bull Durham mixed with Miss McGill from Youngblood (oh, yeah, we keep score), Beverly earns her hot-older-woman cred by nimbly seducing Wilmer Valderrama in Summer Catch. Plus, we still love her for going gratuitously topless in Vacation.

Kim Bauer may have been attacked by a mountain lion, but that wasn't the last cougar-related subplot to hit 24. JoBeth Williams proved she's still got it, and not even pairing her with RoboCop (clever, 24 producers. Very clever) was enough to distract us. Could one of the hottest women of the '80s be one of the hottest in her 80s? We'll see.

In Off the Black, Sally Kirkland looks young, perky, and vivacious. OK, sure…most of that has to do with the fact that she shares scenes with the mummified remains of Nick Nolte, but there's no point in nitpicking. With legs like hers, who cares if the hips are most likely made of plastic?

Hollywood's Hottest Cougars

They may be getting on in years, but they're still on the prowl for fresh meat
Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate
Mrs. Robinson was pretty effortless in her seduction of young Benjamin Braddock, and it's easy to see why; few can hold a cigarette or show a bit of leg as seductively as the late Anne Bancroft. Why didn't they teach us about this in college?
Bebe Neuwirth as Diane Lodder in Tadpole
We all knew Lilith Crane was a wildcat, but we never suspected she'd sink her claws into a 15-year-old! In 2002's "Tadpole," Bebe Neuwirth plays a chiropractor who beds her best friend's stepson, a charming dude with a penchant for quoting Voltaire. If you'll excuse us, we're of to find a copy of Candide.
Cloris Leachman as Ruth Popper in The Last Picture Show
Though she may have freaked us out recently with 80-year-old cleavage on "Dancing With the Stars," Cloris Leachman made for a convincingly sexy adulterous housewife who hooks up with a much younger Jeff Bridges in 1970's "The Last Picture Show."
Jacqueline Bisset as Ellen Burroughs in Class
Jacqueline Bisset is an accomplished, class-act British actress, but that didn't stop her from hooking up with Andrew McCarthy's prep-school character in 1983's "Class."
Jennifer Coolidge as Stifler's Mom in American Pie
We all owe "Stifler's mom" a debt of gratitude for bringing the concept of the cougar back in vogue. That, and doing it on a pool table.
Kim Cattrall as Samantha in Sex and the City: The Movie
Samantha Jones, our favorite "try-sexual" (as in, she'll try anything once), enjoyed a long-lasting relationship with a younger man ... or so we've heard from our girlfriends. Kim Cattrall's still got the goods, though.
Lauren Hutton as Countess in Once Bitten
As a centuries-old vampire on the hunt for attractive male virgins in the '80s, Lauren hutton ahd her work cut out for her; especially since she had to pretend that Jim Carrey was desirable.
Kim Basinger as Marion Cole in Door in the Floor
Jeff Bridges was on the receiving end of some cougar lovin' in "The Last Picture Show," but in 2004's "The Door in the Floor" his wife Kim Basinger who takes an interest in his much younger summer assistant. Basinger has just passed the 50 mark when this was filmed, but her 20-year-old co-star Jon Foster didn't seem to mind.

Faye Dunaway played the world's sexiest shrink in the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair (trust us, ours looks like Donald Rumsfeld). And it's easy to see why - that hair, that suit, the fact that her cheekbones and forehead are only 24 years old! Let us tell you about a dream we had last night, doctor...

Once we got past our initial disappointment over what exactly The Banger Sisters was actually about, we relished the chance to see Goldie Hawn shake what her momma gave her and what she in turn gave to daughter Kate Hudson (that's not an ass, it's a family heirloom). As if we needed any more reason to envy Kurt Russell.

Playing a woman who wants her husband's ashes turned into breast implants, Catherine Deneuve showed us that she can still create an air of sensual mystery and that we can suppress our gag reflex long enough to admire it. Seriously? Do you really want people referring to your husband's remains as "perky"?

It's a fact: In Case of Emergency star Jane Seymour has been 30 for the past 20 years. We don't know if she's got an excellent skin regime or if she's sucking the lifeblood out of newborns, but this woman refuses to age. And age, for once, has decided to stop fighting her. (Age has been heard muttering, "Whatever, man. I could totally take her, but it's not worth it, you know? Why stoop to her level?")

God save the queen! There's nothing sexier than a woman in a position of power. Helen Mirren may have acted every inch the frigid British monarch, but that twinkle in her eye said, "Underneath all of this tweed, I'm wearing a leather garter and a bustier." Is it any wonder the most emotional scene in The Queen is between her and a buck? She is animal magnetism, baby. No fey English dude can handle that.

With so much perky blondness on display, Raquel Welch had to break out her thickest, most weatherproof body shellac to stand out in Legally Blonde. But damned if she didn't do it. She harkens back to a simpler time when women were women, and girls were boys. Or something like that. But we digress - she still looks great, doesn't she?

Forget trying to cast a newer, younger Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter can still rock the star-spangled panties. Witness her mature hotness and its powerful ability to wake Willie Nelson out of his pot haze in The Dukes of Hazzard - the very same pot haze that has been holding steady since 1972! Lynda also acted as a nice, elegant palate-cleanser after gorging our eyes on Jessica Simpson's ass for an hour and a half.

We'd never actually admit to watching Fashion House, but we do admit that Bo Derek's ageless hotness does cause us to linger on it for maybe a minute or 30. Whether she's lording over a fashion line with an iron fist, running down the beach with Dudley Moore, or giving Brian Dennehy a wedding-day heart attack, Bo is an undisputed classic.

Ramin Setoodeh. Year of the Cougar. Newsweek. June 18, 2009.

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