The 15 Best Sensual Movies of The 21st Century
10. Match Point (2005)
Woody Allen thinks “Match Point” may be the best film that he has made. While it’s quite possible that no one else shares his opinion, it’s definitely one of Allen’s best thrillers, and for which he even earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
The film centers around Chris (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a poor boy from Ireland who recently retired from professional tennis and now works as an instructor at an exclusive club in London. There, he befriends Tom (Matthew Goode), meets his wealthy British family, starts dating his sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer), and is soon offered a job at one the family’s companies.
It’s quite clear from the start of the movie that Chris is tremendously ambitious and hopes to rise up the social ladder using his charms and sex appeal. To this end, Chris is clearly on his way. However, as luck (the primary theme of this film) would have it, he meets Tom’s American girlfriend, Nola (Scarlett Johansson), and the two are instantly attracted to each other. It’s what follows that makes this film a thriller and I’d best not spoil it by revealing any more of the plot.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson are two of the sexiest people in the film industry and are perfectly cast in this film where the characters they play are fully aware of their appeal. “Men always seem to wonder. They think I’d be something very special,” Nola says in a scene.
When Chris asks her if she is, she says, “Well, no one’s ever asked for their money back.” So, there are two sexy people doing sexy stuff that range from oil-massage sensual to ripping-blouse-apart passionate. Need I say more?
9. Black Swan (2010)
This Oscar-nominated film, directed by Darren Aronofsky, is an American psycho-drama that revolves around a devoted ballerina striving for perfection as she slowly descends into a psychotic breakdown.
Natalie Portman plays Nina Sayers, who is cast as the Swan Queen, the lead ballerina of a production of Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Swan Lake”. Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), the director of the production, requires the Swan Queen to embody the virginal White Swan, as well as her evil twin – the seductive Black Swan. Soft-spoken Nina, who lives with her overbearing mother, in her pink-and-white bedroom, is perfect for the role of the White Swan.
However, Thomas believes she’s too controlled for the Black Swan. Newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis), who shares a close resemblance to Nina, but is everything Nina isn’t – confident, carefree, bold – seems better suited to play the Black Swan. Tormented with insecurity about losing her part to Lily, and overwhelmed with pressure to achieve perfection, Nina begins to lose her grip on reality.
“Black Swan” is as much a psychological thriller as it is a tale of self-discovery and sexual exploration. For Nina, her incredibly restrained world revolves around ballet; she seems to have experienced little else outside of it. Naive in every sense of the word, Nina must open up to better embody the Black Swan. “I see you obsessed, getting each and every move perfectly right, but I never see you lose yourself,” Thomas tells her, “Go home and touch yourself. Live a little.”
Pushed by her mentor, Nina finally gives herself to sensuality. She goes on to explore her body, let her hair down on a night out with Lily, and little by little begins to shed her inhibitions until she seems to experience things that may not even be real.
8. Free Fall (2013)
Directed by Stephan Lacant, this dramatic film has been touted as the ‘German answer to Brokeback Mountain’. While the American film is far superior, “Free Fall” fits better in this particular list.
The film tells the story of two men as they begin a clandestine affair in the hyper-masculine world of police officers. Marc (Hanno Koffler) lives with his heavily pregnant girlfriend, Bettina (Katharina Schüttler), and they seem to share a happy relationship. However, when Marc meets fellow police officer Kay (Max Riemelt) during a training course, he finds himself unable to resist Kay’s advances and their casual friendship soon escalates into a whirlwind romance that turns his life upside down.
“Free Fall” lacks the depth and nuance of “Brokeback Mountain”, but the scorching chemistry between Koffler and Riemelt makes this film worth watching. The two actors succeed in making even karate sexy. The sex scenes in “Free Fall” are also more graphic than the relatively subdued “Brokeback Mountain”. The long jogs in the countryside, a convenient rendezvous for Marc and Kay, may just be some of the most sensuous scenes featuring two male actors.
7. The Dreamers (2003)
Set in 1968 Paris with the backdrop of the student riots, “The Dreamers” is an enchanting coming-of-age drama. Matthew (Michael Pitt), an American student, strikes up a friendship with a beautiful and free-spirited brother-sister duo – Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel).
The three bond over their common love for cinema and Matthew ends up staying at the siblings’ house while their parents are on vacation. During his stay, Matthew discovers that his new friends share a near-incestuous relationship where they sleep together in the nude and play sexual games, which even Matthew is expected to participate in. As he joins the siblings in their sexual exploration, he finds himself drawn into a complex three-way romance.
The sex scenes of “The Dreamers” may be difficult to watch for some people. There are some stark emotional sadomasochistic elements that are cringe-inducing, but you just cannot look away or remain unaffected by them.
Peter Bradshaw, amusingly, had this to say about the sex scenes: “the full-throttle, full-frontal moments in ‘The Dreamers’ seemed to enforce a cathedral hush in the London screening I attended – though at the Venice Film Festival the response was a light and ubiquitous chuckling – and one sequence in particular was punctuated by the sound of someone’s notebook distantly clattering from lap to floor.”
While the film is NC-17 levels of explicit in its depiction of nudity and sexuality, it also has a subtler sensuality tapped skillfully by director Bernardo Bertolucci’s visualization. Louis Garrel and Eva Green are both incredibly good-looking people, but the way Bertolucci treats them gives Theo and Isabelle an air of ethereality, making us see them as Matthew sees them – like movie stars. When Isabelle dresses up like the characters in the movie scenes she enacts, she becomes one.
The film moves from being a romanticized account of cinephiles, to a story of self-discovery, sexual exploration, and quiet participation in the unravelling of a larger political movement. Throughout, though, or at least until it nears the end, “The Dreamers” looks like a fascinating dream.
6. Secretary (2002)
A decade before “Fifty Shades of Grey”, there was “Secretary”, and before Christian Grey, there was E. Edward Grey. While both are erotic romance films focusing on a sadomasochistic relationship, “Secretary”, at its core, is essentially a romantic comedy and is far superior than its Razzie-awarded successor.
Directed by Steven Shainberg, “Secretary” revolves around two quirky individuals – socially awkward and submissive Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is prone to self-mutilating behaviour, and E. Edward Grey (James Spader), a grim demanding lawyer who seems to have had such bad luck with his secretaries that he has a permanent ‘secretary wanted’ sign outside his office.
Lee is Mr. Grey’s latest secretary. In the beginning, she’s just this intriguing employee who brings cuticle scissors and iodine to work, and voluntarily jumps into the dumpster to retrieve her boss’s notes. She is keen on being useful, and eager to please.
Soon enough, employer and employee begin to develop a deep understanding of each other and find themselves in a working relationship where whenever Lee makes a typing error, she receives a spanking over his desk. This moves on to further sexual games and role-playing, love, and an oddly tender relationship.
Despite the tricky subject and the film’s crass tag line – “Assume the position!” – “Secretary” is neither offensive nor repulsively prurient. Even the most shocking bits of the film have a somewhat surreal quality that may make us chuckle but only when the moment calls for it. Lee is never a victim. She’s a willing participant who comes to crave the spankings and grows to be more assertive than when she first walked into the office.
Edward may spank hard, but even when he does, there is a subtle tenderness that Lee senses and responds to. It’s these nuances that make this film especially sensual. Yes, there is nudity, depictions of BDSM, and scenes of masturbation and sex, but this is a film where you’d be equally, if not more, affected by a simple brush of fingers.