It’s Valentine’s Day. If you’re single, you have one of three dire options. One, join a ragtag band of Facebook revolutionaries and write 1,000 word status updates condemning the holiday as a “creation of the corporations.” This might get you ten likes, but be advised – you will disappear from news feeds everywhere. Two, gather a group of your best friends (sassy gay man or cynical lesbian recommended, but not required), head out to the nearest Karaoke bar, and bust out Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” until the pain goes away. Be grateful that you “seriously have the best friends in the world,” but please note that these same friends will all ship out and shack up, probably sometime in the next twenty minutes. Lastly, you could do what most Americans do: sit at home with your prized chain pizza and your favorite free porn, feet up, pants off, waiting for time to end or the moment to arrive when you can finally cry yourself to a sweet and solipsistic sleep.
But what if there was another way – a way you could still watch (not have, let’s be real here) all the sex without the subsequent sequitur of shame? For this Valentine’s Day, I’ve compiled a list of seven critically acclaimed movies that double as highbrow pornographies. It’s the Criterion Collection meets The Bang Bros, joining together to ensure that this time Debbie Does Doystoevsky, not Dallas. In order to make the cut, each of the movies had to meet the following criteria:
- Available for streaming on Netflix. It takes a certain type of bravery (and sad geographic location) to go out and rent a DVD on February 14th, so I made this list in line with the needs of your typical Valentine’s Day shut-in.
- A lotta bit dirty, a lotta bit smart. Although the word “erotica” reminds me of some very painful adolescent coffee shop experiences, I wanted to find movies that achieved both physical and narrative climaxes. Sorry Channing Tatum.
- No movies with the words “Cruel” or “Intentions” anywhere in the title. No explanations with the words “because” or “why” necessary either.
The following movies may be a little darker than your standard rom-com (less marriage and money, more death and demise) but that’s just how just how love works. We wait for an end that never seems to come, grateful that we can still rewind to first dates and favorite cleavage shots. Thankfully, there’s no need to be alone this Valentine’s Day. Breathe. Take a minute. Now reach into your heart, and reach out to your computer.
7. Brokeback Mountain
The story of two bi-curious cowboys set off to save sheep – and find love – Brokeback Mountain features a lit-mag storyline magically transformed into a stunning two-hour movie. Starring Heath Ledger in Wrangler denim and Jake Gylenhaal in an adorable hat, Brokeback Mountain showed American audiences that hot straight male actors can have hot gay male sex. While not exactly revolutionary (see: the entire history of porn), the movie tells a painfully honest story about gay love in mid-century rural America. For Heath and Jake, it’s a liiiiittle something of a challenge (everyone wants them to die) but Brokeback doesn’t overload the viewer with trauma. Moments of real beauty of are paired with scenes of real struggle, like the first time the two make love in a tent, right after spending the last forty minutes of the film eating beans. You’ll pray for Heath and Jake to find peace and ventilation, you’ll settle for some sweet sixty-second sex.
6. Blue Valentine
Featuring Michelle Williams as a troubled young mother and Ryan Gosling as a hot violent dad, Blue Valentine tells the story of a young couple’s incredibly tragic, therefore familiar, demise. The film is a genuinely authentic look at the trajectory of a real human relationship, complicated by the fact that Gosling is not actually a real human. Still, the movie eloquently captures the ephemeral and beautiful highs seen at the beginning of a relationship, and the endless, interminable lows witnessed at the end. It’s one-hundred-and-twelve minutes of “Please don’t abandon me!” which I’m pretty sure is the narrative thread behind all of human existence.
While Blue Valentine is heartbustingly sad, it also features some hot sequences, including a steamy shower scene and a lot of Ryan Gosling smoking around children. Don’t worry about the kid – Gosling is too sexy for the nicotine to have any “real” effect – and don’t fret about the plotline –you know it’s not called The Notebook.
5. Hustle and Flow
I struggled with the idea of putting Hustle and Flow on the list, given that the one happy sex scene in the movie was actually just a long-winded kiss, squeezed between one-hundred-and-twenty minutes of hardened hookers and a small crying Christ child. Still, when pimp DJay (Terence Howard) finally swaps tongue with pregnant prostitute Shug (Taraji Henson) it’s a real moment of intimacy in a film searching to find meaning. Set during a hot summer in urban Memphis Tennessee, Hustle and Flow tells the story of DJay and his fight to rebuild himself as a rap artist. His title track “It’s Hard Out There for a Pimp” reflects the real realities of trying to make it as some dude sitting in his car while his female employees put their lives at risk. There’s very little romance in the film, but there are real moments of empathy and connection. In a world divided between the dumpers and the dumpees, that’s the most you could ever hope for.
4. Lust and Caution
Rated NC-17 for explicit sex scenes and a bunch of unfortunate double entendres involving Mahjong, Lust and Caution is an award-winning Ang Lee pain porno. Considered one of the top erotic films both by critics and the lunatics on Yahoo message boards, Lust and Caution tells the story of Wong Chia-Chi (Tang Wei) a Chinese revolutionary gone undercover to kill Japanese puppet agent Mr. Yee (Tony Liung Chiu-Wai). Wong Chia-Chi seduces Yee through short skirts and painful puns (“You always win, except for when you PLAY with me,” she caps locks) but starts to find herself unconsciously attracted to him when he bones her from behind (this is a woman who gets excited about ceramic tile games, give her a break). The film does, however, successfully explore the connection between sex and aggression, unlike the 1,000,000,0000,000 films before it.
3. Swimming Pool
Set in French mansion, Swimming Pool features a hot old artist and a sexy young twenty-something who – defying every known narrative convention – do not bone. Sarah Morton (Charlotte Ramplong) is an elderly mystery writer who goes to vacation at her publisher’s country home, only to find his promiscuous younger daughter Julie (Ludivigne Sagnier) already there. While Sarah angrily writes in her journal, Julie goes out and has tremendous sex, in a brilliant retelling of every college roommate experience I’ve ever had. The two women fight but are ultimately brought together through an old-school murder; a clever conceit clearly imagined by a group of highly functional sociopaths. I loved it.
It might just be all the emo in the air right now, but Weekend has to be one of the most goddamn gorgeous love stories I’ve ever seen. Russel (Tom Cullen) is a quiet closeted gay man who goes out to a British club one night to find a little companionship (Note to Russel: Have you ever heard of anything? Try the Internet for three freakin’ seconds). There, he meets Glen (Chris New), an outspoken artist who loves sex, drugs, and bad techno. The two have an immediate connection and then head back to Russel’s house, where they spend the next 72 hours together having sex and thank god not listening to Prodigy. Where their attraction is intense, Glen and Russel don’t go on the traditional adventures you see in the traditional rom-com. They do what most people do in a relationship: have sex, make fights, and sit around on the couch until one of you has to go to the bathroom. It’s full of feeling and all incredibly real.
1. Y Tu Mamá También
Two dumb teenage boys set out to seduce a woman, but end up kissing each other, in my all-time favorite high school revenge fantasy. Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael García Bernal), are both spoiled adolescents who heroically convince their cousin’s wife Luisa (Maribel Verdú) to take a road trip with them to an imaginary beach. She consents, because everything in her life really sucks right now, and the three head out for a wild Mexican adventure involving corn chips and dick jokes. The movie perfectly captures what people are like at that age – irritating – and sets it against a subtle-enough analysis of class and politics in modern-day Mexico. It’s gorgeously shot and beautifully written, although it takes ninety-one minutes to get to the only scene anyone’s ever cared about.
Straight boys in terrible trysts, single women in sadistic setups, and hot lesbians absolutely nowhere (this is Netflix, not Pr0nhub). This year, there are so many ways to watch other people having sex – without going to jail. Happy Valentine’s.
Heather Dockray is a comedian and storyteller living in Brooklyn, NY. You can see more of Heather’s work at www.heatherdockray.com, follow her on twitter @Wear_a_helmet, and email her at email@example.com if you aren’t from Moveon.org.