The chosen few

The 10 men who might just inspire the rebirth of Jewish male cool.

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Help is on the way. Though they might not be as prominent as their pratfalling peers or aging ’70s predecessors, the following 10 men, all under 40, have managed to avoid playing wimps and simpletons. Can they reinvigorate the meaning of Jewish male celebrity? (Read about the decline of cool Jews here.)

1. Adrien Brody, 33 — Planting that wet smacker on Halle Berry ensures his place on this list, and playing the lead in last December’s smash remake of “King Kong” doesn’t hurt, either.

2. Jake Gyllenhaal, 25 — Possessor of maybe the greatest potential for mainstream stardom of anyone on this list, Gyllenhaal has proven he can play a range of sensitive characters, from “Donnie Darko” and “The Good Girl” to “Jarhead” and “Brokeback Mountain,” without losing his edge.

3. Liev Schreiber, 38 — This 6-foot-3 man’s man has played top-secret government bad boys (in “The Sum of All Fears” and “The Manchurian Candidate”) as well as garnered acclaim for his onstage work in “Macbeth” and the testosterone-charged “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Oh yeah, he also played the antichrist’s daddy in this year’s remake of “The Omen,” and is dating Naomi Watts.

4. Jason Schwartzman, 25 — Sure, he plays more than his fair share of mixed-up doofuses (“Shopgirl,” “Slackers”), but at his best, he’s the most charming existentialist on film since early Dreyfuss. And he plays drums. And he gets to play Louis XIV in the upcoming “Marie Antoinette”!

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5. Adam Brody, 26 — The best thing on “The O.C.,” this teen mag fave brings a sly sensibility to his work on the show that makes him far more interesting to watch than his conventionally macho counterpart, Ben McKenzie.

6. James Franco, 28 — Having decided Franco is sufficiently not nerdy, the studios have been trying hard to sell this guy as a heartthrob (“Tristan & Isolde,” “Annapolis”), but audiences haven’t been buying. Could still break through.

7. Matt Stone, 35 — As the co-creator of “South Park,” Stone is responsible for some of the most puerile and gross humor of the last decade, but also some of the most subversive and culturally astute. Unlike Stiller or Sandler, though, Stone is more of a provocateur than the butt of the joke.

8. Alex Greenwald, 26 — Greenwald has been featured in ads for the Gap, but it’s his role as the frontman for Cali rock band “Phanton Planet” that marks him as one to watch. Greenwald is one of the few Jewish stars on the rock ‘n’ roll horizon.

9. Shia LaBeouf, 20 — LaBeouf has so far been relegated to being the best thing in a bunch of bad movies (“Constantine,” “I, Robot”), but his charming naturalism is impossible to deny. Shades of Hoffman, but more streetwise.

10. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 25 — Probably still best known from the late-’90s sitcom “Third Rock From the Sun,” JGL has quietly been doing edgy work in indie films such as this year’s teen noir “Brick” and 2004′s “Mysterious Skin,” where he played a hustler. He’s ready to take his talent mainstream.

David Marchese is associate music editor at Salon.

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