Now that I’ve got your attention…
Movies with explicit or provocative sex and nudity can cop a bit of bad flak. People have always been able to accept that European cinema can be erotic, but if it’s American it’s typically filthy smut that’s just made to get people off (or to get you into somebody else’s pants and then get off). The difference between pausing Betty Blue (1986) to catch a sneaky prolonged peek and doing the same with Basic Instinct (1992) is an ocean of repressed desire. But while that famed erotic thriller and the leg-cross that single-handedly (er…) brought about tracking issues with VHS players is a bit daft, there are indeed some movies from this side of the Atlantic that will stimulate both heads.
Body Heat (1981)
Sex and murder go hand in hand with the movies, and in 1981 we got one of the most sweaty, sexy screen couples in the form of Kathleen Turner and William Hurt. Both were newcomers – it was her first film, his third – but that doesn’t stop them from giving it everything they’ve got in this thriller about an affair turning deadly when the woman asks her lover to murder her husband. The film trades on their movie-star good looks, but they deliver when it counts, giving great performances amidst the sticky Florida heat.
The Last Seduction (1994)
Like something out of a 1940s film-noir, Linda Fiorentino’s deliciously evil femme fatale in The Last Seduction sure is a piece of work. First she schemes with her husband to steal $700,000 in cash from selling pharmaceutical cocaine before skipping town with the money, then she dupes another poor guy in a small town outside of Buffalo to perform a telephone insurance scam by using her Manhattan sexuality, and then she convinces him to murder her husband back in New York City when he threatens their operation. Twist and turns up until the very end, this wickedly entertaining movie is smoldering sexy and hilariously wrong in many ways.
More mischievous femme fatales and more devious murder plots! Before they became known for their mind-bending blockbusters like The Matrix (1999) and Cloud Atlas (2012), Andy and Lana Wachowski made this nifty thriller about two lovers, Corky and Violet, who scheme to steal millions of stashed mobster money and pin the crime on Violet’s crook of a boyfriend. The lesbian relationship at the film’s center is steamy, yes, but the film isn’t just a titillating peep show — it’s a sharp and tightly-wound thriller and gives Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly some of the best roles of their careers.
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Despite featuring a very explicit lesbian sex scene and another masturbation scene with star Naomi Watts, the steamiest moment in Mulholland Drive is one where everyone keeps their clothes on. Considering David Lynch’s fever-dream masterpiece is two-and-a-half hours long, that’s not a whole lot of the hot stuff, but good grief, you won’t forget it. Watts and Laura Elena Harring star as versions of the Hollywood dream trying to solve the mystery of an assassination attempt and a curious blue key that can unlock parallel dimensions. Some may call the sex scenes gratuitous frat boy stuff for blokes, but it’s far more erotically dangerous than that.
Get your kink on with Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader as two unlikely souls who find each other and comfort through BDSM. It’s positively heartwarming and maybe just like the characters in the film you might just find yourself intrigued and even aroused. Hey, whatever floats your boat, okay? The upcoming 50 Shades of Grey adaptation can only dream of being as good as this.
Not exactly “erotic,” but there aren’t many films in which you can watch unsimulated sex and legitimately call it art. John Cameron Mitchell’s explicit exploration of the Brooklyn underground sex parlor known as Shortbus is frisky as all get-out, but also incredibly sweet and very funny and invested in discovering something about sexuality that usually gets lost along with an actor’s clothes. Whatever sexual persuasion you say or think you are, this film has something for you. How many movies can you watch that features somebody performing “Star-Spangled Banner” into somebody else’s butt, you know?