Sex and the single boy

A British actor goes to Hollywood and gets screwed. Same old story. Thank heavens, then, for a film year shaped by strong women. By Chris Peachment

The defining moment of the year in film was surely that feeling of surprise and pleasure when we realised that not only did Hugh Grant have genitals, but he actually knew how to use them. For so long now, we have become accustomed to his stammering, blushing, upper-middle-class, repressed-Englishman act that one feared for the man's sanity.

But not any longer. The boy finally let rip, with the divinely named Divine Brown. The sad thing was his abject humility afterwards. Instead of raising two fingers and saying "So?", he went into an orgy of apology and started running scared.

In fact, the whole small event can be seen without much strain as a metaphor for the British film actor in Hollywood for the first time. You make a splash back home. They invite you to Hollywood. They suck you into the system, and drain your talent for what, in the final analysis, turns out to be just so much disposable audience gratification. Whether it be under the dashboard of a BMW, or in the studios, Hollywood is a place where the weak will be screwed.

There were two surprising things about the event. Hugh Grant may not yet be on the A- list, but someone of his standing is usually met at the airport by a stretch limo, complete with a Cointreau-filled jacuzzi, and two well-oiled starlets in the back.

The other odd thing was that people seemed shocked. Or at least they affected shock. Hollywood has always been one huge sex industry. Sex has always been the lubrication that keeps the film reels turning.

With that in mind, the following is an account of some of the more memorable sexy moments on film in the past year. Of course, it is partial, not least because it is from a man's point of view.

Strange to relate, the movies have been rather short on Divine Brown's speciality. But from the excellent low-budget US independent film, Clerks, which was just a bunch of guys sitting around talking while minding the store, we did learn what a "snowball" was (you'll have to see the film yourself to find out). And we also learnt how it is possible to commit necrophilia by accident. According to the coroner, called in to fetch some poor old man who has expired in the store's lavatory, it is quite common for an erection to continue after death. Alas, one poor girl later confesses that she had sneaked in there in the dark looking for her boyfriend, assumed the cadaver to be him, and well, the rest is a small piece of film history. Grim humour, but mordantly funny none the less.

Staying on the grim side of making the two-backed beast, Goldeneye managed the tricky business of updating Bond to the Nineties, and part of that process was to have a Russian villainess called Onnatop, who did a nice line in squeezing men to death between her thighs. I must confess to a frisson comparable to when Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) once threw Sean Connery clean over her shoulder. What is it about strong women?

What it is about strong women is that they are coming into their own for the first time on screen since the great film noir era, when women such as Barbara Stanwyck could twist men around their fingers to the point where they would do anything, even murder, to please their object of desire.

Dora Carrington was a strong woman, although you wouldn't guess from Christopher Hampton's directorial debut, which should have been called Strachey. She moved in with Strachey, and loved him dearly, but, necessarily, platonically, since he was gay. So she married Ralph Partridge just to keep him around the house, because Strachey loved him. Then Partridge takes a mistress in town, so Carrington takes up with his best friend. As Strachey says at one point: "What a world. Women in love with buggers. Buggers in love with married men. Married men with mistresses. And what with the price of coal!" She also had lesbian leanings, which the film politely ignored.

It has been a big year for lesbian cinema, though with poor results. There were no less than four tales about murderous lesbianism - Sister My Sister, Heavenly Creatures, Fun and Butterfly Kiss - and all of them dreadful. Then there was Thin Ice, about lesbian ice dancers, which inevitably gained the title Pink Rink.

On a slightly gay theme, Shallow Grave had the considerably endowed Kerry Fox emerging topless from the bathroom; the man's indifference was the first hint that he might be gay. And The Usual Suspects had, among its many memorable moments, two criminals exchanging banter: "And what will you do if you end up inside?"

"Fuck your father in the showers. Go for some lunch." Not exactly gay perhaps, but worthy of Tarantino.

Another strong woman was Sigourney Weaver in Polanksi's Death and the Maiden. Having survived torture and rape at the hands of the secret police, she later turns the tables on Ben Kingsley, and his subsequent ritual humiliation may well have had its attractions for bondage fans.

Sharon Stone, one of Hollywood's strongest women, graced the mock spaghetti western The Quick and the Dead as the fastest gunslinger since Clint, and while she didn't let on as to whether she was wearing knickers this time, she did blow Gene Hackman out of his boots. In a similar vein Sophie Marceau looked terrific in breeches as D'Artagnan's Daughter, and also engaged in some heavy swordfighting with the best of them.

Lots of good sword fighting, too, in La Reine Margot, which pleased many women with its line-up of well-muscled, long-haired Frenchmen all hacking divots off each other. The sexiest moment though was Daniel Auteuil and Isabelle Adjani shoved up against a wall. They may have been fully clothed, but what urgency! Of the other French films, Leon gave us a new sex symbol. Jean Reno looks like France's answer to Robert Mitchum. He has the same huge body, the same rolling walk, the same husky voice and the same natural gravitas. If I were Fanny Ardant, I would go for him. In fact, she does go for him in the forthcoming Antonioni film, Beyond the Clouds, and mighty touching they are together.

Taken all in all, the sexiest events of the filmic year all came from strong women in touching moments. The first time Meryl touches Clint in The Bridges of Madison County is when she straightens his collar from behind, much as she must have done a thousand times before with her husband and son.

Also very touching was Johnny Depp in two different films. As Ed Wood, he played the Z-grade, poverty-row film director, who was also a man who claimed to have stormed the beaches at Iwo Jima wearing a full set of women's underwear beneath his combat gear. His first marriage cracks under that strain, but when he explains his desires to Patricia Arquette she calmly removes her angora sweater for him to try on. A kind moment in a lovely film.

Depp also played the title role in Don Juan De Marco, a man who, far from being mad, knew just how to woo the cotton socks off any women who crossed his path. "You have brought my manhood alive and made it sing," he says to one girl, and gets the fascinated reply: "It sings?" He also inspires his shrink, Marlon Brando (in his best role in years), to regain the passion he once had for his wife, Faye Dunaway. "What happened to the celestial fires," he asks her, "that used to light our way?" Try it out , it's a good line.

The two Depp films get my vote for sexiest moments of the year, although Kristin Scott Thomas gets a special award for being the sexiest Englishwoman. As Angels and Insects showed, she has intelligence, strength and, that most civilised quality, a sense of irony. The fact that Hugh Grant didn't marry her in Four Weddings and a Funeral should be a punishable offence.

Is there finally any one over-arching pattern to all of this? Not really, except to note that, even if women are getting stronger, there is less sex, and indeed less violence, in the movies compared to the Seventies, in spite of what the moral crusaders would have you believe. In more general terms, the US independent scene is by far the healthiest at the moment, with films such as Clerks, Crumb, Amateur and The Brothers McMullen proving that all you need to make a movie is a good script, a bunch of friends, a garage, a credit card and a passion. I wish someone would tell the British that. Then they would not need to head down Sunset Boulevard in search of satisfaction.

Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed

Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?