James Spader and Deborah Kara Unger in Crash/Photo by Michael Gibson © 1996 New Line Cinema.
While a long and lingering buildup can often pack more excitement than the main event, Fifty Shades of Grey‘s meandering journey to the screen threatens to challenge even the book’s most patient fans. The film’s producers have yet to nail down a screenwriter as they continue to take twitter shrapnel from a jilted Bret Easton Ellis and fans desperate for some sign of forward momentum. At this rate, Fall 2013 is the earliest audiences will glimpse Ana and Christian’s transgressive tango, while Summer or Fall 2014 are more realistic given the lack of a script.
Even E.L. James’ most masochistic die-hards may grow weary of the anticipation (and the endless onslaught of parody videos). So to help with this dry spell, we’ve assembled a few of our favorite examples of sexually uninhibited filmmaking. We curated this selection with an eye toward artful eroticism. Have a look and join the conversation with a few of your own favorite examples of sensual cinema. In other words, each of these films features frank sexuality (and its emotional subtext) without provoking the urge to watch it on mute.
First imagine you’re a vampire who looks like Catherine Deneuve with the power to imbue your victims with eternal life … as long as you continue feasting on them, sexually and otherwise. Then imagine casting aside your current comfort food/fantasy (David Bowie at his dead sexiest) to play doctor with a beautiful researcher (Susan Sarandon). The result is this 1987 Tony Scott-directed sapphic feast for the senses full of some of the steamiest woman-on-woman sex scenes this side of an NC-17 rating.
Some actors can never shake their dominant personality trait. Gregory Peck projected stand-up morality. Woody Allen embodies neurosis. And James Spader lathers his characters in sexual deviance. In a good way. Particularly as it manifested itself in this dark comedy in which he plays a tyrant boss whose need to control his secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal) extends beyond micromanaging her filing system to handcuffing her to the desk before having his way with her. Each debauched assignation plays simultaneously to laughs and lust thanks to Gyllenhaal’s giddy excitement and Spader’s perpetually hungry bedroom eyes.
“Belle de Jour”
A kind of Madame Bovary run amok, this feast of French sensuality features Catherine Deneuve at her most exquisite. She plays a housewife who hopes to reignite some sexual feeling for her husband by playing out her wildest fantasies as a prostitute in the local brothel. The film is full of penetrating insights into the nuanced differences between love and sex and how frustratingly irreconcilable the two can sometimes become once marriage is involved. Filmmaker Luis Buñuel captures the essence of a woman’s desire from the inside out.
Based on Hanif Kureishi’s celebrated story collection, this somber 2001 drama centers on a man and a woman who meet up for a series of brief, anonymous and hard-driving sexual trysts. Though not a perfect film by any means, this story of two people escaping reality into a shared dangerous fantasy explores how sex and anger inform, inflame, and amplify one another. The action scenes course with displaced emotion, which makes them all the more realistic and riveting.
James Spader, forever pushing the boundary between blue and black, stars in this 1996 David Cronenberg film about a cabal of car-crash victims who have come to fetishize the adrenalized excitement of auto accidents. Spader plays a TV producer who gets sucked into this fringe-dwelling subculture in the hopes of jumpstarting his his own sex life with his wife. This is a fascinating look at how a filmmaker as skilled as Cronenberg can imbue an event as seemingly unsexy as a car wreck with a powerful erotic charge that lingers long after the film’s closing credits.