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‘Nymphomaniac’ Tops the Copious Sex on Screen at Sundance 2014

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Getting it on never feels as honest as in the fringe films that play the fest.

Without Hollywood looming over their decisions and censoring in the name of chastity, independent filmmakers have a blank canvas to explore any topic, including the entire spectrum of sexuality. This makes the Sundance Film Festival a no holds barred arena of the raunchy and romantic — getting it on never feels as honest as in the fringe films that play the fest. Sundance 2013 hit new heights in the sex department, offering Joseph Gordon-Levitt's porn addiction dramedy, Daniel Radcliffe's gay sex scene, a biopic of Linda Lovelace, and a documentary on bondage, just to name a few. 2014 was a little more tempered, though eventually met the bar set by last year thanks to the last minute addition of the much-buzzed Nymphomaniac. Here's a glimpse at some of the best sex you could find at Sundance this year.

Frank

Here's a daring move: Frank stars Michael Fassbender — Hollywood's favorite Irish import — as a musician who dons an oversized cartoon mask. Meaning, we rarely see Fassbender, whose character is the ringleader of an equally eccentric alt-rock band. The quirky conceit doesn't allow for much steamy Fassbending or even romancing. But while the title character stews in his own existence from under his paper mache dome, his bandmates (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and About Time's Domhnall Gleeson) find an opportunity to, uh, connect in a hot tub. This is after Gyllenhaal rocks out on the theremin, which is even hotter than actual sex.

White Bird in a Blizzard

Based on the book by Laura Kasischke, White Bird in a Blizzard will be heralded by the Mr. Skins of the world for gifting us samples of emerging it-girl Shailene Woodley in the flesh. Despite her upcoming YA entries Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars, Woodley boldly embraces the sexually-charged nature of White Bird, stripping down and engaging with men as her vicious mother (Eva Green) lashes out in jealousy. Director Gregg Araki is no stranger to coitus and alternative forms of connection — his college sexcapade Kaboom is a must-see — so while there's a mystery element to White Bird, the meat is Woodley's self-discovery and carnal journey.

Obvious Child

Ex-SNL star, Jenny Slate, arrived to Sundance with what could easily be called a “Girls knock-off.” But that's the simpleton assessment. Obvious Child is a movie about dating, sex, throwing caution to the wind, and the never-not-gut-wrenching abortion experience. The dour situation is turned on its head by Slate, whose dirty, brazen, and poignant comedic talents are on full display. The impetus of Slate's emotional roller coaster ride is a tipsy one-night stand with Max (Jake Lacy). The hook-up is joyous — set to the Paul Simon song that lends its name to the film — which makes the aftermath all the more difficult.

The Skeleton Twins

Saturday Night Live alumni Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig star in this Sundance-y drama that mixes the duo's brand of humor with explorations of suicide, marital friction, and taboo relationships. Hader's performance is a real standout, a gay actor wannabe who winds up in his hometown to find himself drawn to a former flame (who also happened to be his high school English teacher). Though their physical romance is portrayed off-screen, Wiig has her own sexual voyage; Despite being married to Lance (played by the hilarious Luke Wilson), she finds herself screwing other men — including her hunky scuba instructor — at every opportunity. Wiig is known for her wacky, unglamorous characters, but in Skeleton Twins she glows with lust. Her raunchy bathroom sex is ultimately frowned upon, but who can blame her for getting it on with Boyd Holbrook?

I Origins

According to this movie (which did a little research, according to its science-minded director), each individual on the planet has a unique eye that can be broken down into patterns, like a fingerprint. But what if someone from the past was a duplicate of your eye? In I Origins, it means reincarnation might be real. To make the heady, sci-fi concept emotionally, writer/director Mike Cahill weaves in a love story between a scientist (Michael Pitt) and a model with the most stunning eyes of all time (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey). To say more enters spoiler territory, but there's no better way to prove a particular relationship to be the best thing ever than throw in a sensuous, all-too-perfect sex scene with two beautiful people. I Origins delivers.

Laggies

Keira Knightley is not known for being the funniest actress working today, but with the help of Lynn Shelton (Touchy Feely, Your Sister's Sister), she makes a case for being an undermined talent. In Laggies, she plays a wayward 20something who retreats to a life of partying, sleepovers, and dependency after befriending a high school student, Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz). The new big sister/little sister-esque friendship sours when Knightley's Megan decides to sleep with Annika's Dad (Sam Rockwell). While their hook-up is clumsy and impassioned (and kinda hot), it's overshadowed by the fact that she hooked up with a dad. And she's engaged. Drama. Sexy drama. Sexy funny drama.

Nymphomaniac, Volume 1

Lars von Trier's highly-anticipated sex epic made a surprise appearance at Sundance 2014, where it played to cackling crowds who ate up its unexpectedly wry wit. The movie has garnered attention for its arty, unsimulated approach to on-screen sex, from posters featuring the cast's “O faces” to trailers that juxtapose oral sex with hunting leopards, Nymphomaniac, Volume 1 was always going to be wild, but no one could have expected on Trier's finished film to be so… tame.  Nymphomaniac is sex-filled, but not sexy. As an older version of herself recounts her sexual history to a bystander, Joe (Stacy Martin) floats from man to man in search of orgasmic pleasure. She recalls her first time with clinical precision — three humps in missionary style, five humps doggy. We see every encounter plain as day — including a shot of Shia LaBeouf thrusting with the assistance of a penis stand-in — but purposefully mundane. Pornography has more genuine passion than the sex in von Trier's film, his way of showing us how vacant Joe is as an emotional person. She hungers for sex, but can't even feel it.

Only half of the 5-hour film was shown (it's being split into two volumes for its American release) and a trailer for Volume 2 teases a crazier set of encounters. A montage of close-up penises in the first film makes it clear that Joe needs more than the human phallus can provide. It appears she'll take drastic measures in Part II.

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