Talking Cool with TIME

Had a good conversation with Time mag's Joel Stein about his choice for Coolest Person of the Year (12/22). We debated whether it was the year of McConnaughey, Jennifer Lawrence, Neil deGrasse Tyson, or the Pope. I like that this annual column appears inside the back cover of the Person-of-the-Year issue since cool – at its most vital – comes in through the cultural back door. Not true of McConna-hey or JL but I hope there's still an underground somewhere.

 The Hunger Games is Star Wars for girls (among other things) and its legacy will forever be embodied by J Law, the first realistic woman warrior in the history of Hollywood film. Lawrence resists Hollywood conditioning and celebrity glorification with an easy sense of humor and an offbeat casualness. She handled the scandal of the nude photos this year with poise and righteous defiance. And against all odds, she's an excellent and creative dramatic actress.

At Q&As in lectures, I'm often asked about the "cool girl" trope -- often applied to Lawrence -- and I quickly separate this sociological category from JL. Lawrence has serious dramatic acting chops, a certain relaxed intensity, and that rarefied quality inherent to cool: charismatic self-possession. As for the problem of gender and cool, see "Women and Cool."