Reel Sex

People were up in arms Tuesday after the announcement of nominees for the 84th Annual Academy Awards. So many seem to forget that every year they are disappointed with the nominees and every year there is some film or performer who was left off or included on the prestigious list. I may have spent the final weeks of 2011 lamenting my utter ennui with last year’s films, but I never in a million years expected some of the Oscar outcomes. No Supporting Actor nomination for Albert Brooks, whose performance in Drive unnerved audiences to the core? Or the blatant disregard for solid documentary filmmaking in The Interrupters, Buck, or Project Nim, three entries into filmmaking that will forever impact the way we view the world around us? No, the Academy seemed to forget the impressive and daring offerings in favor of an adorable dog in a silent film. What is this, 1920? Last I checked The Jazz Singer pushed us into the land of the talkies.

I could spend all day gnawing my tongue over which films shouldn’t have been included in this year’s awards recognition, but just like arguing the virtues and evils of the MPAA, our time is better used talking about some of the sexy pieces of work that the Academy felt were too provocative to include (for reasons I have completely made up in my mind. Hey, they have their prerogative, I have mine.). Going along with the Academy’s new voodoo math rules of deciding the appropriate number of Best Picture nominees (something about getting 5% votes and then jumping a broom after falling off a cliff), I have picked out nine salacious films ignored for what we can only assume is their brave use of sex, sexual orientation, Ezra Miller’s hips, or worldwide punishment for one woman’s ill-timed infidelity.

As The Rock so eloquently asked for in the cinematic masterpiece Fast Five, let’s start with the veggies. The veggies in this case are the less obvious and therefore easily forgotten entries. Dee Rees’s Pariah is one of those incredibly simple yet thought provoking films the Academy loves to ignore. They see “black,” “lesbian,” and “inner city” in the summary and instantly the monocle-wearing older gentlemen running “things” mutter to themselves “well, who would want to watch that type of film? Didn’t we already try being edgy with Precious?” Well, it turns out the Sundance darling is actually an engaging and inspiring piece of film that focuses just as much on lead character Alike’s (Adepero Oduye) sexual awakening and as it does on her acceptance of self. She is a prime example of a character moving forward from the heartbreak of a sexual coming-of-age, and Rees’s perfectly sculpted script would have been a shining beacon amongst the worn out drivel (Bridesmaids aside) competing for Best Original Screenplay.

Another daring and controversial film ignored in the Best Original Screenplay category is the tight, brutal, and sexually-charged Bellflower. Now, I know suggesting rookie Evan Glodell’s story of what happens when love goes wrong may seem a little out there (remember, we Rejects are champions of all things Medusa), I want to point out that the script is one of the more surprisingly realistic offerings of 2011. Last year was full of films uncovering the darker, sadder parts of love, and Bellflower was courageous enough to compare the destruction of love to the terror of the Apocalypse—but with sexier people. Fortunately we will see more from both Rees and Glodell in the future, but it’s a pity these two sexually daring scripts won’t get the same stamp of approval as the nearly silent The Artist.

I know you might be ready to jump down to read (again) about Michael Fassbender’s boner in Shame, and I promise you I haven’t forgotten about him, but before we do that let’s talk about a film genre near and dear to my heart—documentaries. Director Errol Morris released the hilarious and unnerving documentary Tabloid last summer, a film chronicling the sexual delusions of a woman who would eventually become one of the most notorious subjects of tabloid fodder. What Tabloid introduces, besides a crazy woman, is the well-accepted notion that a woman cannot rape a man. This may have not been Morris’s intended theme, however it is one that is blatantly clear once the story of former Miss Wyoming Joyce McKinney’s obsession and abduction of her Mormon boyfriend begins to reveal that she forced herself upon him while keeping him against his will.

McKinney recounts the story for Morris, who does not shy away from the satire the subject lends herself, and in each passing scene her sanity is questioned along with the audience’s understanding of what constitutes rape. Unlike the narrative The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, rape in Tabloid almost comes off like a joke. As if it is something only humor can remedy. And regardless of how sensitive the subject, the lighter touching of rape in this documentary actually proves that McKinney is a nut job. This year’s Best Documentary nominees cannot hold a candle to the inspiring filmmaking Morris is capable of doing even when he’s not trying to make a serious film.

Infidelity, like rape, is something the Academy enjoys primarily seeing when the victim is being punished for being just that, a victim. Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion absolutely deserves no accolades for its uneven portrayal of a world-wide epidemic, however composer wunderkind Cliff Martinez does deserve a nod for beautifully narrating the nearly world-ending catastrophe brought on by one woman’s ill planned affair. Along with Alberto Iglesias’s moving score for Tinker Tailor Solider Spy (thankfully sitting high on the nomination hog), Martinez’s Contagion score perfectly captures the foreboding feeling the ensemble cast feels as their story unfolds. Without the use of a slutty trumpet or a saucy drum roll, Martinez hinted unobtrusively to the dire consequences infidelity can have on more than just the two parties involved, even if we really should be blaming the bat-pig.

Our last five rudely neglected films feature performances audiences will remember well beyond some of their would-have-been competitors. Don’t worry; I’m not putting the shirtless Channing Tatum into this bunch. Starting with the Best Supporting Actor category, two sexually daring (confusing?) performances were forgotten. First was the sexy-creepy Patrick (John Hawkes) in Martha Marcy May Marlene, a man so sexually compelling he had an entire cult of lost Urban Outfitter models following him along on morally conflicting excursions. Hawkes is quickly becoming the Judy Greer of the indie scene, and the Academy’s exclusion of him in the Best Supporting Actor category once again proves they just don’t get it (and maybe they need to get some).

Meanwhile, another scene-stealing background performer whose name was not called yesterday was Patton Oswalt. Young Adult was entirely forgotten this year, and it is an insult that Oswalt’s sexually misidentified Matt (a character who accepts he is sexually undesirable but doesn’t let that define himself) would not get recognition for falling in love with the emotional succubus that is Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron). It’s easy to say Matt is naive in thinking Mavis won’t crush his soul after she seeks sexual comfort from the tiny chubster, but Matt is so much more than that. He is weak and strong, something a real person can identify with. He knows Mavis is a wretch of a human, and he sleeps with her not thinking it would make her fall in love with him, but maybe actually help him fall out of love with her. Unfortunately Young Adult is not Matt’s story to tell, and we are left uncertain as to Matt’s final outcome once he realizes Mavis has fled. It is obvious Oswalt was Matt at one point, and that makes his lack of nomination sting even more.

The ladies didn’t have it any easier this year, as two impressive women were left off the final list of Best Actress nominees. Both Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin) and Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia) submitted performances that were rooted in the evils or solace of sex. Both characters saw the adverse effects of their sexual decisions. Justine’s (Dunst) need for sex with a stranger the night of her wedding grants her a few fleeting moments of feeling something other than manic, but in the end she is living a sham of a life and wants others to accept their mortality on the cusp of the end of the world. Dunst’s performance is erotic in her unflinching bearing of herself, both physically and emotionally, yet it’s one of those performances where a beautiful person is not made ugly on the outside, but her overwhelming sadness destroys everyone watching. Dunst creates a character with such crippling melancholy that we cheer her on in ever poor decision she makes with her body.

Swinton’s Eva is a woman struggling to keep her unraveling marriage together as her terror of a son, Kevin (Ezra Miller), torments everyone from his younger sister and mother to his fellow students. Swinton is a chameleon, and she once again loses herself behind Eva’s perfectly manicured life. Hiding behind Swinton’s black eyes you can see the sadness of a woman whose sexual longing for her future husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) results in a real-life Damien, while she flashes back on how if she hadn’t given into her own desires her life wouldn’t been in the hellacious ditch it currently inhabits. Yes, Swinton already has an Oscar of her very own, but Eva is arguably one of the more underappreciated female characters of last year thanks to the film’s uncomfortable, ugly, and intense story; which is a shame of immeasurable proportions.

Ah! See what I did there? Shame? Yeah, okay you did. Shame is a film about a sex addict that almost feels like it needs less attention, and maybe in a way Fassbender’s Oscar snub is a direct result of championing a film too much. Fassbender bared not only his junk but also his character Brandon’s soul in Shame, completely immersing himself in a man whose sex appeal is actually his emotional undoing. Brandon could be anyone and have any addiction, but he is a rich white man with a little talked about addiction to carnal pleasures. He is sexy and disgusting, and Fassbender’s willingness to hold nothing back while in Brandon’s expensive shoes only proves that the Academy is afraid of sex for pleasure and wants to only reward actors engaging in sex on screen when the consequences are clear cut and easy to understand.

What other sexually proactive, engaging, or disturbing films and performances do you think the Academy failed to recognize this or in previous years?

Explore more on-screen sexuality


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