400 Screens, 400 Blows is a weekly column that takes an in-depth look at the films playing below the radar, beneath the top ten, and on 400 screens or less.
Well, seven seconds has gone by and here I am, thinking about sex again. Not like that, you little perverts... I was thinking about sex in movies. It seems like, lately, the movies have learned to become sexy again. In the late 1960s, it became slowly acceptable to show nudity in American films. By the 1970s, many filmmakers were running with it. At some point during the 1980s and 1990s, some kind of conservative mood took over and the MPAA and other forces began taking sex out of movies, replaced with violence. As one clever soul put it: "if you show a breast, you get an R rating, but if you cut it off, you get a PG-13." Perhaps people have grown tired of conservatism lately because this year has been a good year for sex. In movies.
If you like sexy, funny women, for example, you can do no better than Anna Faris, who played a Playboy bunny last year and this year plays mall makeup countergirl Brandi, who listens to vulgar hip-hop and wears her good-time girl attitude like a revealing halter top. Her sex scene with Seth Rogen in Observe and Report (119 screens) contains so far one of my favorite lines of dialogue this year. She's downed several shots of something or other and a few pills on top of that. She's about 99% passed out as Ronnie Barnhardt (Rogen) pounds away on top of her. He stops, concerned about her well-being: "Brandi?" he asks. Suddenly, from between smears of lipstick: "Why are you stopping, motherf----r?"
On the flip side, we have Steven Soderbergh's drama The Girlfriend Experience (48 screens), which tells of the day-to-day grind of a high-class New York call girl. It's very arty and the reviews have been mixed, but I think it's a fascinating look at the place where sex and business collide. Even if there's a distinct lack of bumping and grinding, the real selling point is porn star Sasha Grey, who of course can be seen -- ahem -- to best advantage.
This year has also seen a reverse in the trend of horror movies, which years ago adapted to an almost exclusive PG-13 clientele. This year we have had three big 'R'-rated remakes, each with its share of nudity, including The Last House on the Left, Friday the 13th and My Bloody Valentine, the latter of which contains a several-minute-long topless scene. The Informers, based on Bret Easton Ellis' novel, was pretty well panned by critics, but I saw it as a kind of lurid, B-movie potboiler, full of entertainingly despicable characters, drugs and sex -- lots of sex -- with all different kinds of partners.
Many other 2009 movies have logged interesting sex scenes, such as in Notorious: Lil Kim (Naturi Naughton) asks Biggie Smalls (Jamal Woolard) if he'd like to be on top, and Biggie -- considering the physics of the situation -- politely declines. Then we have a sensual scene between Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman) and Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) in Watchmen, set to the tune of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." At the climax, Silk Spectre reaches out and slaps a button, causing their floating craft to let loose with a spurt of fire. Then, if you had to sit through the awful Crossing Over, at least you could go home with images of voluptuous Aussie actress Claire Shepard (Alice Eve) disrobing, even if it's to have yucky sex with a creepy INS official (Ray Liotta). Other titles, like Adventureland, Crank: High Voltage, Sin Nombre and I Love You, Man also had couples doing the four-legged fox trot.