5 Best Sex Movies


1 . The Outlaw (1943)

Because it had to start somewhere. And no, I’m not talking about flashing thighs in Busby Berkeley numbers, or Claudette Colbert’s leg in It Happened One Night (1934) or Fay Wray almost topless in King Kong (1933). Instead, The Outlaw is the movie, more than any other, where the decadent and often leery subtext of Hollywood product (what is King Kong, other than an interracial sex fantasy?) comes spilling out over the surface, and encapsulates the entire project.

The latter, then a young starlet known only for her impressive embonpoint, was the focus of everything about the movie, from breast-obsessed camera shots, to the marketing campaign itself. “What are the two reasons for Jane Russell’s rise to stardom?” screamed the film’s smutty, and frankly naff, tagline.

The Basic Instinct of its day, the Shame, this movie, under the fetishistic gaze of millionaire director Hughes, pretended to be about Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel, a miserable actor) and Doc Holliday (Walter Huston, bored), but was really about the misadventures of feisty sidekick Rio McDonald (Jane Russell).

For its sins, the movie, which finished shooting in 1941, remained in distribution limbo for five years, bouncing from film company to censors’ scissors, to public decency campaign, back to film company, to brief 1943 release, to limbo again, and eventually becoming a smash hit in 1946.

Ultimately, The Outlaw’s raison d’etre, as no doubt Howard Hughes would have told you, is the depiction of Russell, who appears after 21 minutes of screen time, covered to the neck in a modest black top, and will spend each successive appearance on camera in lower and lower cut tops, in more and more lascivious poses, until finally, gagged and bound at a desert watering hole, she is splayed entirely, passively, for the (male) audience’s delectation, arms aloft and body beautifully lit by one of the greatest cinematographers the medium has known, Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane (1941), The Grapes of Wrath (1940) etc).

For The Outlaw, in its chromosomal essence, is the first time a complete film said nothing at all to the watching, leering, male audience, other than, “Fuck me!” The rest is history.

2. Shame (2011)

Shame is the moment when everything collides. The art house, the S&M flick, the Oscar-worthy sex scene, the mainstream marketing hype. It’s all there in Shame, a dark and grimly compelling tale of one man’s increasingly insatiable appetite for both sexual fulfilment and emotional annihilation.

And yes, as directed by Steve McQueen and performed by Michael Fassbender, the movie is conspicuously low on laughter. And there is, undoubtedly, a flipside Shame that lives in an alternate movie universe, and it’s called The Shagger, and features the exact same characters, plot and location, but is shot mostly in daylight, with KT Tunstall playing on the soundtrack, and starring Ben Stiller. And it’s pretty funny.

But Shame is more than that. It’s a sombre, serious film that reaches and eaches for greatness, and tries, and hopes, to speak about the dominant and oppressive sexualisation of the culture we live in today. It pitches Fassbender’s anti-hero, Brandon, through a series of contemporary sexual scenarios – from the benign (internet porn) to the slightly, well, eccentric (fetishistic gay bar followed by a threesome with prostitutes) – and watches him crumble to nothing when faced with the seemingly simplest of sexual tasks, namely, to experience a physical encounter with a woman he likes, and indeed might love. Tragic.

I asked him about this when I met him, about the interplay between Brandon and Fassbender, and this is what he said. “People don’t know me. But when you don’t have some socially acceptable normative behaviour, where you’re not married at a certain point in your life, people are always going to fill in the blanks. Was Brandon a performance that was relating to me, or cathartic to me? It’s like, whatever! I brought my contribution to it, Steve did his thing, everyone involved did their bit. It’s out of my hands from then on in. I know what my personal life is, and thank God I’m not going through the imprisonment that is Brandon’s life.”

It helped too, for the hype around Shame (the film was given the dreaded NC-17 rating, which it didn’t challenge and instead celebrated) that star Fassbender was perceived at the time (and possibly still is) as something of a man about town. An absence of long-term relationships in his past, plus a string of ex-girlfriends, plus a legal barring order from one of them (actress Sunawin Andrews), all pointed surely towards Brandon-esque tendencies in this white hot star?

3. Team America: World Police (2004)

Sex is funny. We know this. Everyone who’s ever done it knows this. Everyone who’s ever said something really fucking stupid while they were fucking and then burst out laughing afterwards knows this. Movies, however? Not so well clued in. And the worst of them, and the ones that fall flattest on their faces, are the ones that box out completely even the tiniest possibility of humour.

Sharon Stone and Billy Baldwin, ramming themselves repeatedly and energetically against a concrete pillar in Sliver is one of  them (they’re physiologically nowhere near coitus – unless his penis is penetrating her, through her black dress, somewhere above the fifth lumbar vertebrae). Most of Basic Instinct is another (“Have you ever fucked on cocaine, Nick?” No, it’s mostly ale and kebabs, Shazzer), and all of Showgirls (1995). And no, contrary to received critical wisdom, Showgirls was never meant to be funny, camp or kitsch. Director Paul Verhoeven has always claimed it was intended to be, and still is, a “beautifully shot, and elegant” movie.

So, thank God for Team America: World Police. The puppet-based action blockbuster arrived just in time, in 2004, when the movie world was still debating the issues of extreme sex in Irreversible, real sex in 9 Songs and Oscar-winning sex in Monster’s BallTeam America shat on that. Literally (the uncut centrepiece sex scene includes an extreme act of scatological humour). And you always knew that a sex scene was going to be special if it began with the lines, “The gorillas beat him to death before the zookeepers could gas them all. My acting got my brother killed, and I have to live with that every day.”

The actor is Gary (director Parker), and the lover is ace psychologist Lisa (Kristen Miller). The sex scene that follows is 70 screen seconds of unadulterated, heart-warming lunacy that makes the possibility of future straight-faced sex scenes very tricky indeed. For it’s all there. The fingers down the six-pack, the profile copulation with open windows and billowing curtains. The hair rock soundtrack (an Aerosmith knock-off called “Only a Woman”). And the increasingly ridiculous and giggle-inducing positions (more so, obviously, because of the puppet protagonists).

It’s perhaps no coincidence the slick Hollywood sex scene almost entirely disappeared afterTeam America, and that within two years the populist comedies that emerged from Tinseltown were the comedies of Bromance (The 40 Year-Old VirginKnocked UpSuperbad etc): all films that established as their fundamental subject the inherent humour of sex and sexual desire.

4. Casino Royale (2006)

Stay with me. Yes. Casino Royale. Think about it. The greatest sublimated sex scene in film history. Better than the train into the tunnel in North by Northwest (1959). Better than the chess game in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Instead, it’s Bond (Daniel Craig), barely conscious and dragged into the rusty bowels of a moored torture tanker. Naked and bound, 007 is rammed into a seatless chair, forcing his balls to poke through.

Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a terrorist financier desperate to recover his cash, repeatedly thwacks Bond’s bollocks with a pendulous rope while gurgling sweet nothings, “Wow! You’ve taken good care of your body!” And yes, we’ve been here before. Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe) had certainly put some thought into laser-beaming the crotch of Bond (Sean Connery) in 1964. But this is different. It is making explicit all that was implicit, all those years, in the Bond legend. All that babe-bedding.

The defining antagonistic relationships with male villains versus the trifling female flings. Here it is, finally, in Casino Royale. It is homoerotica writ large. An S&M torture scene that wouldn’t be out of place in Fifty Shades. Control and submission. Le Chiffre gets his man. And Bond gets his rocks (almost literally) whacked off.

Ultimately, the scene worked so well, in opening up the gay world of Bond, that it was revisited in Skyfall (2012), when Bond is tied to a chair once more by enemy Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), who purrs, “First time for everything.” To which Bond smirks and replies, “What makes you think this is my first time?” Silva gasps, “Oh, Mr Bond!” Quite.

5. Kids (1995)

Kids is pretty much in its own category. For the questionably voyeuristic child-sex genre is, thankfully, a limited business, and mostly limited to the films of Larry Clark – see also Bully(2001), Ken Park (2002) and Wassup Rockers (2005). It doesn’t help that, with Kids – a day in the life of teenage New York skaters, dossers, drinkers, stoners and shaggers – Clark shoots his subjects via a “documentary” style that borders on creepy cinematic stalking, where every lifted limb is captured, every naked profile, every panty flash noted.

And yet. It’s hard to dismiss Kids. And there’s certainly a sense that the cinematic world is a more complex and intellectually rigorous place because of its existence. Listen, for instance, to Clark himself questioning the validity of the film’s NC-17 rating. “Maybe it’s because Kids is not some fantasy bullshit. And every fucking movie now, has this sex scene in it, you know the guy’s laying on his back and the girl’s wiggling on top of him, he’s got her breasts, and it’s this stylised fake shit. But they’re not NC-17.

Neither is the subject matter going to win him any friends (Kids got a commercially damaging NC-17 rating [no children under 17] on release), especially when the film opens with odious 17-year-old protagonist Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), a self-described “Virgin Surgeon”, deflowering a doe-eyed 12-year-old girl, and closes with Telly’s teen buddy Casper (Justin Pierce), raping stoned acquaintance Jennie (Chloë Sevigny), in her sleep.

“I just saw that movie Clueless [1995]. Everything in that movie is in my film. It’s about a teenage girl who’s looking to lose her virginity. There’s pot-smoking and drinking, and a scene where she walks out of a party and she’s stepping over bodies and people are throwing up in the swimming pool. It’s a lot of the same stuff that’s in Kids, but it’s done in the stupidest way, and everyone just finds it so fucking funny because it’s so cute. Nobody puts that movie up to the standards that they’re putting me up to. People say they find Kids depressing. I find something as fake as Clueless depressing.” And the man, as they say, has a point.

 

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