Bradley Cooper: incumbent Sexiest Man Alive. (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

In a few days, one man will earn what is arguably the most coveted title in America. Naturally, the title I refer to is People’s Sexiest Man Alive.

Yes, Celebritology knows there is an extremely important presidential election on Tuesday. The Washington Post has that well-covered, here, and here, and here, and in many, many other areas of our newspaper and Web site.

On this Friday before that legitimately big day, Celebritology thought it would be nice to give us all a brief break from sorting through opinion polls and campaign rhetoric so that we can focus on something admittedly silly but also — based on a couple of recent Celebritology Live discussions — equally capable of sparking strong opinions.

Later this month — on Nov. 14, to be precise — People will announce its Sexiest Man Alive for 2012, forcing Bradley Cooper to pass his crown of sexiness on to some other well-deserving bastion of male hotness. Last year, there was an uproar and an actual protest when Cooper snagged the title during what was clearly, in the minds of some, the Era of the Gosling. So does Ryan Gosling have a shot this time around? Or is this a moment when we all need to come together and honor Robert Downey Jr.’s significant achievements in the field of sexiness?

Honestly, I have no clue. But that hasn’t stopped me from putting together this list of the 10 likeliest candidates for Sexiest Man Alive, with assistance from Celebritology readers.

Robert Downey Jr.


Why he could be Sexiest Man Alive: The man who appears to have the most support from the Celebritology contingent has a lot working in his favor. He was in the biggest blockbuster of 2012, “The Avengers.” and will reprise his role as Tony Stark next year in “Iron Man 3.” He recently became a dad for the second time, which has raised his warm and cuddly numbers exponentially in (non-existent) national polls. He obviously appeals to the core People demographic (women in their 30s and 40s). His comeback story has been long-celebrated. Plus — and this could be the factor that ultimately takes him to the top — his strutability ratings are extremely high.

Why he might not be Sexiest Man Alive: There is really no reason, unless he just doesn’t feel like having his picture taken for the People photo spread. But even that’s not a deal-breaker.

Hugh Jackman

(Graham Denholm/GETTY IMAGES)

Why he could be Sexiest Man Alive: He’s starring in one of the splashier, awards-buzzy films of this holiday season, “Les Miserables,” making him a particularly timely choice. He’s extraordinarily likable. Also, per the photo above, he can wear his Wolverine mutton chops outside of an “X-Men” context and still look pretty handsome.

Why he might not be Sexiest Man Alive: He already earned the title back in 2008. Perhaps People would not want a Jackson repeat quite so soon.

Daniel Craig


Why he could be Sexiest Man Alive: He’s James Bond, and he’s starring in “Skyfall,” which is poised to blow up big at the box office and in terms of cultural conversation.

Why he might not be Sexiest Man Alive: His reputation as a super-serious guy might convince People editors to opt for someone more willing to embrace his Sexiest Man status.

Robert Pattinson


Why he could be Sexiest Man Alive: Clearly the guy has generated a tidal wave of headlines recently. With the last “Twilight” movie opening just a few days after the SMA announcement — and with Pattinson clearly trying to transition into the post-Edward Cullen portion of his career — this would be a particularly good moment to assert his status as a sexy man. (Emphasis on man.)

Why he might not be Sexiest Man Alive: While Pattinson has plenty of People-demographic-friendly fans (hello, Twi-moms), he still may be perceived as a star whose appeal skews more toward the teen and tween set. At 26, he would be the youngest Sexiest Man Alive in history. Which means that if he wins, he’ll get a very prominent exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Sexiest Man Alive Museum that stands right next to the Museum of Natural History in the Pretend Washington, D.C. inside my brain.

Channing Tatum

(Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Why he could be Sexiest Man Alive: He demonstrated his appeal this year in three very important ways: by making women laugh (“21 Jump Street”), swoon (“The Vow”) and watch him take off his clothes during Ginuwine’s “Pony” (“Magic Mike”).

Why he might not be Sexiest Man Alive: He could be seen as — please pardon the “Magic Mike” double entendre — overexposed.

Brad Pitt

(Joel Ryan/AP)

Why he could be Sexiest Man Alive: At 48, he’s a veteran celebrity sex symbol, and one who has only earned the Sexiest Man Alive title once, back in 2000. (Correction: He actually earned it twice. 1995 was his year, too.) He has two upcoming movie projects to promote: “Killing Them Softly” and “World War Z.” And there’s also the matter of that wedding that’s supposed to be happening at some point. Since People has had to wait for that cover story, maybe they’ll want to feature Pitt solo in the interim?

Why he might not be Sexiest Man Alive: That silly Chanel commercial and its subsequent parodies may have knocked down his sexy ratings a bit.

Leonardo DiCaprio

(© Mario Anzuoni / Reuters/REUTERS)

Why he could be Sexiest Man Alive: Despite his mega heartthrob status post-“Titanic,” DiCaprio has never been named Sexiest Man Alive. But perhaps the magazine was just waiting for him to ripen a bit, something he’s done in recent years while continuing to choose challenging film roles. He’s got three more high-profile ones on the horizon, in “Django Unchained,” “The Great Gatsby” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which could convince People editors that he’s someone we’ll be talking about a lot over the next year.

Why he might not be Sexiest Man Alive: DiCaprio’s heartthrob status has waned a bit, which is probably good for his career as a serious actor but perhaps weakens his SMA odds.

Chris Hemsworth

Chris Hemsworth as Thor in The Avengers. (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Why he could be Sexiest Man Alive: Like Tatum, he had a breakout year at the movies, with “The Avengers” and “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Also, he’s Thor, and his brother is Gale in “The Hunger Games,” giving this People issue maximum newsstand sale potential.

Why he might not be Sexiest Man Alive: He may be seen as not quite well-known enough to carry the People cover.

Michael Fassbender

(Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Why he could be Sexiest Man Alive: Like Gosling, his sexiness quotient has only been rising, along with his film career. He’s a good choice if People wants to go down a particularly edgy, cerebral road this year.

Why he might not be Sexiest Man Alive: Like Hemsworth, he might suffer from a mainstream star power problem. (Remarkably, some people may be more likely to say “Who?” rather than “Ooooh” when they hear the name Fassbender, as evidenced by the way he was recently ignored while in the presence of Gosling at a charity event. )

Ryan Gosling

(Frazer Harrison/GETTY IMAGES)

Why he could be Sexiest Man Alive: Really. Do we have to go over this again?

Why he might not be Sexiest Man Alive: If People chooses him, they may come across as looking too desperate to make up for last year’s perceived snub.

Other potential Sexiest Men, listed in order from more likely to least likely to make People’s cover, despite their obvious worthy sexiness:

Jeremy Renner

Idris Elba

Javier Bardem

Jon Hamm

Matthew McConaughey

Paul Rudd

Evan Peters

So which of these guys do you think has the best shot at the coveted title? Who are you rooting for? Please share your thoughts by posting a comment. Because — just to make sure we’re all clear — this is really important.