By Samantha Highfill
Updated February 14, 2014 at 06:00 PM EST
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I have my mother to thank for a lot of things — my hair, my love of purses, my fear of camel crickets, my existence, and most of all, my judgmental qualities when it comes to on-screen kisses. When I was but a teen, I remember sitting on my couch watching Ryan and Marissa’s first kiss on The O.C. I had no idea my mother was standing in the corner of the room until I heard, “OH MY GOD! That is the best kiss EVER!!” Suddenly, I had to rewind the scene to see what the heck she was talking about.

What made one kiss better than another? Well, for one thing, hand placement is key, according to my mother. And it can’t be too over-the-top. You never want a guy to slobber all over you. Okay, so those weren’t her exact words — but by the third viewing of Ryan and Marissa’s Ferris wheel ride, I started to see what she meant. Man, that was a really good kiss, particularly the part when he puts his right hand behind her head. And the way he holds his mouth… in an instant, I was hooked.

10 years later, I’m just as judgmental as ever. This is not to say that I actually think that I know what it’s like to kiss these people — I’m not delusional, nor do I claim to be the best kisser. It’s just something I notice. Some kisses are better than others, and some people, overall, are better kissers. A bad kisser is like a bad dancer; it just kills the sex appeal. Heck, I felt that way even before I knew what sex appeal was.

I was in high school when I first established a “Top 10” list of hottest guys in Hollywood. For some reason, it seemed essential to have that information in my head, like Ross’s cheat list or something. My list included five blondes — Ben McKenzie, Paul Walker, Matthew McConaughey, Brad Pitt/Daniel Craig, and Heath Ledger — and five brunettes: Johnny Depp, Hugh Jackman, Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, and Patrick Dempsey. As editor of my yearbook, I decorated the wall above my computer with collages of all these men, as well as one special poster featuring what I considered to be the perfect kiss. (Shockingly, I was single throughout most of high school. But I wasn’t as weird as I’m sounding right now, I promise.) That perfect kiss, however, was not Ryan and Marissa’s Ferris Wheel kiss, but rather one that came later on the pier. By having it positioned above my computer, I like to think I helped a lot of high school boys step up their game. In reality, all it did was spread word of my Ben McKenzie obsession around school, which was fine with me.

Though I’m well out of high school (and still in love with Ben), I’m still judging kisses. And as it turns out, two of the men in my top five turned out to be not-so-great kissers: Both Wahlberg and Dempsey seem a little sloppy. (Sorry, ladies.) That said, there are lots of things that can make a kiss great other than just the kisser’s technique. Kissing someone as they’re in the middle of a sentence because you just can’t wait anymore? Always good. The up-against-a-wall kiss is rarely bad. And everyone loves a good few-second hesitation before going in for the home run.

Then again, some people just do it better than others. Let’s start with the classics. Robert Redford and Richard Gere always seemed to be listed in my “good” column, because they’re both very subtle. Their lips almost barely move, but in a good way. Nothing is less attractive than a man puckering too hard and attacking your face, and both Redford and Gere present the opposite extreme. The lesson: If all else fails, keep things simple.

Then you’ve got the Sexiest Men Alive, who also seem to know what they’re doing in the lip-locking department; Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon all come to mind. George Clooney has his moments as well, but some of his kisses bring up one of my pet peeves. It seems to be assumed in Hollywood that grabbing a woman’s face during a kiss automatically makes it good. And although a proper face/neck/head grab can make a kiss about five times hotter, it has to be done properly. A lot of it is about placement, but there’s also slight movements of the fingers, tilting her chin, etc. For example: If you want to see how NOT to grab a woman’s face and kiss her, watch Joey on Friends. Sorry, Matt LeBlanc, but it’s just not working for me.

And while we’re talking about where to place your hands, I have to reference Kyle Chandler, specifically as Coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights. I don’t even know where to start with that man. He knows how to hold someone, whether it’s a kiss or a hug. If I were ever upset about anything, I’d want Kyle Chandler to hold me, so let me give him an honorable mention as best hugger. Also, the kiss at the school when he pinned Tami up against the wall and put his hands above her head? TAKE NOTES. In those notes, I would mention that it’s important for everything to seem natural and organic. If it’s clear someone memorized where to put their hands, a kiss automatically loses impact.

This seems like the appropriate time to bring up Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling’s reenactment at the MTV Movie Awards when they won the award for Best Kiss in The Notebook. I seriously hope all men study Gosling’s every move in this interaction. From the way he barely places his hand on the small of her back as they head to the stage, to the “come hither” signal he gives her, even to the way that he’s chewing his gum, it’s all sexy. His walk? Yes. The way he grabs her hair mid-kiss? Double yes. Make this video your Bible, fellas. I mean it.

Then there’s The Vampire Diaries‘ Paul Wesley. He just does it right. From hand placement to the way that he seems to catch a woman’s kiss (instead of attacking her face), it all works. And yes, TVD fans, I think Ian Somerhalder is a helluva kisser as well — his form just isn’t quite as perfect as Wesley’s. Wesley is always incredibly controlled. Plus, have you seen his mid-makeout growl (even when it’s playful)? I mean, honestly.

And at the top of my list of best kissers is the man behind the kiss that started it all: Ben McKenzie. From his jaw to the way he holds his mouth, it’s all good here. He has great hands, he never puckers too much, and, like Wesley, he always seems to be catching the kiss in the best of ways. But just in case none of this makes sense to any of you, I’m happy to demonstrate with what I believe is the perfect kiss. It’s from season one of The O.C., and I can’t find a thing wrong with it. It’s subtle. He places his hand perfectly to pull her toward him. And yes, this is what I had posted over my computer in high school. Enjoy:

Of course, I can’t talk about all of this without mentioning the people these guys are kissing. It takes two, y’all. Special shout-outs to Mischa Barton, Nina Dobrev, Candice Accola, and Jennifer Aniston, all of whom are pretty great kissers. Other honorable mentions: Vin Diesel gets the award for best mid-kiss pick up when Dom lifted Letty up by her ass in The Fast and The Furious. Daniel Craig wins sexiest kiss scene that didn’t actually have a kiss in it for the shower scene in Casino Royale. And Kevin McKidd deserves some sort of gold medal for perfecting the all-of-a-sudden kiss over and over again.

So Happy Valentine’s Day, kids! Go kiss somebody like you mean it! But don’t pucker too much. And don’t overcomplicate things. Okay, I’ll get out of your love life now. If you need me, I’ll be eating a cookie cake and watching The O.C.

The O.C.

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