The 100+ Most Controversial
Films of All-Time

2003-2005


The 100+ Most Controversial Films of All-Time
Film Title/Year, Director
Screenshots

The Brown Bunny (2003)
D. Vincent Gallo

Gossip about cult actor Vincent Gallo's directing debut centered on a graphic oral-sex scene and his feud with critic Roger Ebert.

This independent arthouse film from narcissistic and vain producer/director/actor/writer Vincent Gallo was essentially a cross-country road-trip movie, about:

  • unshaven, long-haired motorcyclist racer Bud Clay (Vincent Gallo) - a tortured, empty-hearted loner
  • his former and estranged girlfriend Daisy (Chloe Sevigny, Gallo's real-life ex-girlfriend)

Bud often idealized and thought about Daisy. In a naturalistic style of story-telling, the flawed film followed Clay's westward trip in his black van to Los Angeles, California after he had lost an East Coast (New Hampshire) race. During his trip, he met fleetingly with three women and connected only briefly with each of them before leaving - all were named after flowers: teenage New Hampshire gas-station cashier Violet (Anna Vareschi), middle-aged Lilly (Cheryl Tiegs) at a truck stop, and young Las Vegas street hooker Rose (Elizabeth Blake). Reportedly at one time, Winona Ryder and Kirsten Dunst were to be in the film, but presumably dropped due to the film's final scene.

When the self-absorbed film was first screened for the press at the Cannes Film Festival in 2003, critic Roger Ebert called it "the worst film ever shown at Cannes," prompting a prolonged feud of words between Gallo and Ebert. Other critics and audiences derided and scorned the film and its filmmaker. The feud with Ebert ended when the film was re-cut (approximately 26 minutes of the two hour film were excised) and re-released, and Ebert gave the film his 'thumbs-up' endorsement. Further controversy arose over large billboards conspicuously placed in Los Angeles, heralding the infamous fellatio scene.

This film further broke down the division between pornography and erotica. In the film's most notorious, explicit and controversial scene of unsimulated fellatio at the finale, Bud and Daisy were in a starkly-white hotel room (soon-to-be-revealed as a fantasy masturbatory sequence) - both lonely and needy individuals who were attempting to connect and speak to each other. Twice, she went to the bathroom to smoke crack cocaine. Soon, the couple began kissing as he took her head/face forcefully with his two hands on her cheeks and hungrily kissed her. He undressed her down to her black bra and panties as she reclined back on the bed. After more kissing and fondling of her naked breasts, as he stood before her at the side of the bed, he undid his belt buckle, released his pant's fly, and she took his male member into her mouth to begin the infamous 'blow-job' scene - as he held himself. As she pleasured him in her mouth, they still engaged in a conversation about their love for each other.

The Infamous Scene

When he was finished and satisfied, he stuffed himself back into his underwear and zipped up his fly. He laid on the bed, in a blurry shot and told her: "Thank you so much." Then, they talked about the last encounter of their tragic relationship, when Bud reacted jealously to Daisy's past indiscretion at a party, where she had smoked dope and acted provocatively with some other guys. She apologized ("I never meant to hurt you, Bud"). He moaned about her drug-addicted habit, especially when she was pregnant. She admitted that she was assaulted and raped by the guys after she passed out from getting high (which Bud witnessed passively through the partially-open door of the bedroom). Bud confessed that he didn't help her, but walked away. When he returned to the scene of the rape, an ambulance had already arrived at the scene, and he sadly kissed her corpse on a stretcher.

The controversy-provoking film ended with a shocking, melodramatic plot twist to explain Bud's complex personality and downer mood throughout the film regarding Daisy as his lost love - the only woman he ever loved. The film's ending gave greater meaning to everything that came before, including the sex scene. It was revealed that Daisy had in fact died as a result of the incident (choking to death on her own vomit) - "I was dead" - and was later taken away in the ambulance. Bud's intense guilt about abandoning her and his continuing crisis of masculine insecurity were informed by the appearance of the deceased Daisy (in his mind only!) - as Bud had been masturbating alone to his memory of her.











The Dreamers (2003)
D. Bernardo Bertolucci

Bernardo Bertolucci's NC-17-rated chronicle of sexual discovery hinted at incest and other taboos while deliberately evoking erotic art movies of the '60s.

Director Bernardo Bertolucci's NC-17 explicitly-rated film of sexual discovery and intimacy was set in the summer in Paris in 1968. It was the first NC-17 rated film in 6 years, after the release of the NC-17 rated independent film Orgazmo (1997), Bent (1997, UK) and Cronenberg's Crash (1996).

It involved a continual series of semi-incestuous encounters between the three characters, all fellow cineastes:

  • Isabelle (Eva Green), an uninhibited, naturally-buxom blonde
  • Theo (Louis Garrel), Isabelle's possessive, brooding twin brother
  • Matthew (Michael Pitt), an American cinema exchange student

The film included frequent total nudity (male and female) during the trio's improvisational sexual games. While the twins' parents were away for a month at the seaside, the game-playing duo claimed they were conjoined at the upper shoulder, where scars were visible. Their tests of cinema trivia were interwoven with clips and play-acted homages to classic moments in cinema (Breathless, City Lights, Top Hat, Queen Christina, etc.) - with the loser forfeiting and having to engage in specified sex acts. Following Theo's failure to identify Blonde Venus, he was forced to masturbate in front of them to a picture of Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel.

After Matthew's failure to identify the film Scarface (1932) for Theo, as Isabelle stripped down before him, his forfeit was to serve as a mediating lover between the twins by making love to Isabelle in front of Theo. She removed the underpants of a partially-resistant Matthew followed by the memorable "blood-on-the-face" scene, in which he copulated with and deflowered the surprisingly-virginal Isabelle on the apartment's kitchen floor as Theo non-chalantly fried eggs on the nearby gas stove. After they finished having sex, Theo touched Isabelle's thigh and brought up his fingers covered in blood - and Matthew also took some of the blood from her broken hymen/vagina and smeared it onto her face as he ardently kissed her.

The "Blood-on-the-Face" Scene

In another subsequent scene of lovemaking between the two, the camera panned slowly up Isabelle's completely naked body as Matthew lovingly kissed her. The threesome also bathed in a tub where her menstrual blood was seen on the water's surface (a symbol of sexual awakening?), and they slept together nakedly-intertwined in an indoor tent.








Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
D. Michael Moore

Professional provocateur Michael Moore's scathing documentary about George W. Bush's war on terror was a hit despite conservative claims that it was anti-Bush propaganda.

Michael Moore's controversial 'documentary' film, an anti-Iraq War treatise, was a critical expose and scathing indictment of the George W. Bush presidency and administration for its handling of the terrorist crisis and his alleged connections to Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden's family. It was accused of being propagandistic - especially in an election year - and that it contained half-truths and distortions of facts, and some conservative groups called for theaters to not screen it.

The controversial film was rated R (due to its graphic images of war victims and some harsh language), under protest from filmmaker Moore, who hired ex-NY governor Mario Cuomo to appeal the decision. With Moore's urging, some theaters defied the rating and allowed teenagers (without guardians) to attend.

The documentary film was included among the Cannes Film Festival's main competition (only the second time in 48 years for a documentary) - and won the top prize called the Palme D'or - the first for a documentary in nearly 50 years. It also broke the record for highest opening-weekend earnings in the US for a documentary, and established a significant precedent for a political documentary (eventually earning $119 million) as the highest-grossing, non-concert, non-IMAX documentary film of all time.

It had earlier gained further publicity and notoriety when Disney opted not to distribute the film through its Miramax subsidiary unit, and Moore accused the company of censorship. Disney's refusal to let Miramax release it, because it would risk causing a partisan battle and alienate customers, actually contributed to the film's great success. [Supposedly, Disney also feared the film might endanger tax breaks Disney received in Florida where its theme parks were located, and where the president's brother, Jeb Bush, was governor at the time.]

Memorable images included:

  • Bush's continued reading of the children's book "My Pet Goat" in a Florida elementary school after the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center (filmmaker Michael Moore narrated: "When informed of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, where terrorists had struck just eight years prior, Mr. Bush decided to go ahead with his photo opportunity...")
  • the many self-incriminating Bush clips (such as when he demonstrated his golf swing - "Now watch this drive!" - immediately after calling on nations to stop terrorist killers, his stumbling through speeches and delivering such damning lines as: "What an impressive crowd: the haves, and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite, I call you my base")
  • the documentarian's questioning of Democratic and Republican politicians about enrolling their sons for military duty
  • the mall scenes in which Marine recruiters targeted minority teenagers for enrollment
  • Bush's inept handling of the terrorist crisis and his agenda (after 9/11) to illegitimately launch a pre-emptive war in Afghanistan and Iraq


Kinsey (2004)
D. Bill Condon

Many groups claimed this honest portrait of the pioneering sex researcher advocated perversion and glorified his work.

This serious and engrossing biopic was about controversial, Midwestern human sexuality researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) who laid the groundwork for the coming sexual revolution, with its tagline: "Let's talk about sex." It stirred up continuing protest about the impact of his pioneering work, interviews and liberal publications on morality and behavior. Kinsey startled the world with the publication of his Kinsey Report (aka Sexual Behavior in the Human Male) in 1948 and its follow-up Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953).

Concerned Women for America (CWA) protested that the film was "an attempt to cover up sex researcher Alfred Kinsey's horrifying reality." They accused the film of misrepresenting how Kinsey actually had encouraged pedophiles to molest children (in the name of science). Other neo-Puritanical proponents thought the film was another example of how Hollywood was normalizing perversion, attacking Christian values about sexual morality, and promoting a "pro-homosexual agenda." And an advertisement for the film was initially rejected by PBS' WNET in New York because the film was deemed too commercial and provocative.

The non-erotic, non-exploitative, and non-prurient film was attacked by morality extremists for its candid and frank drama about the famous Indiana University doctor's obsessive life-work. His revolutionary techniques were exhibited for example, in a b/w educational sex film of patient Barbara Merkle (Kathleen Chalfant) masturbating - one instance of using movie and still cameras to record sex acts.

It illustrated how Kinsey's own free-thinking wife Clara "Mac" McMillen (Oscar-nominated Laura Linney) had painful sexual problems with her inexperienced husband during their honeymoon. On their wedding night, the two virgins were so sexually naive that their attempts to consummate their marriage were a complete failure. They later realized that they were unaware of a physical challenge - Mac's thick hymen had impeded their union. Later, she was engaged in an extra-marital affair with her husband's bi-sexual teaching assistant Clyde Martin (Peter Sarsgaard) - who also had a homosexual encounter with Kinsey and appeared in a full-frontal scene.

[Note: Kinsey also had a strict religious upbringing which impacted his own personal feelings about sex (feelings of shame when contemplating masturbation for himself as a young man) and his own inability to be completely comfortable with his own body. It told about how a young Kinsey was punished with a confining genital strap to prevent him from masturbating by his ultra-moralistic, bullying, and repressive minister father (John Lithgow).]

In the film's final heartbreaking interview scene with an older, middle-aged lesbian subject (Lynn Redgrave in a cameo), she expressed how she was freed from homosexual guilt ("You saved my life"), after experiencing lesbian feelings.





9 Songs (2004, UK)
D. Michael Winterbottom

This UK movie received limited US distribution but revived the "porn or art" debate by charting a couple's relationship through nine unsimulated sex scenes.

Maverick British director Michael Winterbottom's ultra-graphic, 69-minute romantic love story was composed of the recollected memories of a male's affair with a female while flying over the snowy wastes of Antarctica. The film followed a traditional romantic arc, from initial infatuation, to passionate love, and then disenchantment and the end of the relationship.

It was artistically shot in digital chiaroscuro and released unrated, and consisted almost entirely of real-time, unsimulated sex scenes beginning with commonplace sex - and then culminating with more experimentation. This sexually-explicit, naturalistic mainstream British film brought up the main question: "Is this porn or cinematic art?"

The film was told from a single viewpoint, recalling the adventurous physical encounters over time between the young couple in London:

  • 31 year old young glaciologist Matt (Kieran O'Brien)
  • slim, flat-chested yet attractive 21 year-old American vagabond exchange student Lisa (Margo Stilley)

Their relationship was interspersed with nine live-concert songs (the film's title) which supplemented the story line with their lyrics. She realized that she was very skinny and flat, and asked Matt as she stood before a mirror: "Do I look like a boy?" He assured her: "Yeah, that's one of the reasons why I like you."

The explicit scenes included sexual intercourse (often in closeup), including oral sex (both male and female), masturbation, penetration, bondage, anal sex, and ejaculation. In the bathtub scene, she played with his penis between her feet. In the bedroom blindfold scene, he told her to fantasize that she was pleasuring herself and being watched as he massaged her body and delivered cunnilingus: "You're on a beach in Thailand. Your eyes are closed so you can't see anything. You feel them watching you" -- she continued the narration as she was orally pleasured by him:

"There's a couple behind me to my right. I can feel them looking at me. I put my hand between my legs. Oh, I'm so wet. Then she slides down her boyfriend's body. She has the most amazing breasts. Oh, god. And she's rubbing them. (Deep breath) And she's covered with oil. And she leans over to her boyfriend, grabs his balls, and puts his cock in her mouth. F--k me, man! Come up here and f--k me. Come up, come up here and f--ck me. F--k me. (He entered her, wearing a condom) F--k me faster. F--k me."

The Blindfold Scene

Later, she confessed to him, "Sometimes when you kiss me, I just wanna bite you and not in a nice way. Like I want to hurt you, like I want to bite your lip really f--king hard and make you bleed."

After a table-dance experience in a night-club where she was the lesbian-esque recipient (not him!), she intensely masturbated to a white, buzzing dildo/vibrator by herself - and shortly later laid back limply on the bed and allowed him to watch her self-love, although he appeared disinterested and returned to the kitchen -- the turning point in their loss of intimacy. During their love/power struggle, however, they continued to have make-up sex as things fell apart -- she reversed positions with him and gave him fellatio, to completion - the film's most explicit scene.

She gave him a book on Antarctica for his birthday, and read portions to him, possibly deeply symbolic of their own demise: "The ice is everywhere and everything. It spreads to all sides, an unbounded void of alien whiteness and geometric rigor. Antarctica is the highest, windiest, driest continent..." Earlier, he had prophetically said this about his explorations in Antarctica: "Claustrophobia and agoraphobia are in the same place - like two people in a bed." Eventually, she told him that she was going back to America - and had added: "Sometimes, you have to have faith in people" - and in narration, he said: "She was happy to be leaving." The day she flew from London was the first time she invited him to her apartment - "She didn't want any goodbyes."





The Passion Of The Christ (2004)
D. Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson's gory account of Jesus' suffering and death was called anti-Semitic but became the highest-grossing independent film ever.

Co-producer, co-writer, and director Mel Gibson's R-rated, self-financed, independent smash-hit film, a brutal depiction of Jesus' last 12 hours on Earth, stirred up considerable controversy. It was filmed with dialogue in three languages (Aramaic, Hebrew, and Latin) with subtitles, and although Gibson claimed that the account was authentic and 'truthful' - it would be nearly impossible to derive a strict and true historical account of the events from the Gospels.

The scourging (a 10-minute sequence) and crucifixion scenes in particular were overpoweringly graphic, bloody, torturous and vicious. Even Gibson admitted that the film was deliberately "shocking" and "extreme" in order to depict Jesus' enormous sacrifice.

Even before it was released and viewed, religious leaders were indignant over its Catholic-tinged interpretation of the Bible, its use of extra-Biblical sources, and its poetic license, and Jews protested the film as anti-Semitic - believing that the "obscene" film would blame Jews for the death of Jesus. Gibson had difficulty securing a distributor for his film.

The film went on to be the most successful R-rated film ever, with $370 million US box-office receipts (on a budget of $30 million), mostly due to its embracing by evangelical church groups. It also became the highest-grossing independent film of all time (at the time). An unrated, re-edited re-release of the film (still R-rated), named The Passion Recut (2005), with Gibson's own edits (removal of about 5 minutes of graphic violence) was shown in theatres for a short time a year later.



Brokeback Mountain (2005)
D. Ang Lee

Deplored by political and religious conservatives, this was the first mainstream gay/bi-sexual romance; it garnered both critical and popular acclaim.

Almost a quarter of a century after the similarly-themed Making Love (1982), this Best Picture-nominated melodrama appeared with its story about two young cowboys who had an unexpected tryst while shepherding in 1963. It told how their ill-fated love affected their married lives in the following three decades. This was the first mainstream gay/bi-sexual romance film, heavily-promoted by the media, to receive multiple awards and critical/public acclaim.

The much talked-about film had quickly become the most honored movie in cinematic history - it had more Best Picture and Director wins from various film organizations than previous Oscar winners Schindler's List (1993) and Titanic (1997) combined. It was also the critical darling of the media and the expected favorite to win, although Crash (2005) surprisingly took the top honor. It had eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and ultimately three Oscar wins, from major A-list film-maker and Best Director-winning Ang Lee.

The plotline was based on the short story by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx and an Oscar-winning adaptation for the screen by the team of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. Gustavo Santaolalla's original music score accounted for the film's third and final Oscar win.

It featured major stars in a story about a secret lifelong bond and longing for love (forbidden). The two young men in the early-mid 1960s were:

  • ranch-hand Ennis del Mar (Oscar-nominated Heath Ledger)
  • rodeo cowboy Jack Twist (Oscar-nominated Jake Gyllenhaal)

The two grew close while herding sheep in the summer on an isolated Wyoming mountain, including scenes of them skinny-dipping, sharing a hungry kiss, and having an under-one-minute sexual encounter in a shared sleeping bag in a two-man tent -- and years later reuniting in a motel bed. Also, there were scenes of both men having sex with their girlfriends/wives:

  • Jack in Texas with rodeo queen Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway)
  • Ennis in Wyoming with sweetheart Alma (Oscar-nominated Michelle Williams)

However, some conservative Catholic organizations cited the film as "morally offensive" for its open portrayal of a homosexual relationship, and others criticized the film as sexually propagandistic. Conservative Christian fundamentalist groups heavily cited the film as glorifying homosexuality and for pushing a sexual agenda. Those who were critical of the film were labeled "homophobic."

Although widely hailed as a "breakthrough" film for gay cinema, neither of the film's two lead actors, nor its director, nor its screenwriters were gay, and the film was originally advertised in trailers without specifically referring to the film's 'gay' themes or scenes.




Hard Candy (2005)
D. David Slade

Subtle performances helped make this thriller about a young teen sparring with a suspected pedophile seem thought-provoking rather than sleazy.

Music video director David Slade's first feature film was this thought-provoking, exploitative female revenge thriller. In many ways, the threatened young 'jailbait' teen thoroughly tortured, abused (and murdered) a suspected pedophile targeting her, with actions including drugging her victim, asphyxiating him with plastic wrap, threatened castration, knocking him out with a stun gun, and blackmailing him into eventual hanging himself with a noose. As a character, she was as reprehensible as her prey.

It began with seemingly-innocent 14 year old, red-hooded femme fatale Hayley Stark (Ellen Page) (screenname Thonggrrrrrl14) meeting 32 year old photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) (screenname Lensman319) in an Internet chat room.

During their first face-to-face meeting at the Nighthawks coffee shop, the potential predator bought her some chocolate cake (which he suggestively wiped from her lips). He also reassuringly told her: "You look older than you are and you, you certainly act older than you are."

Later, she accused him of being a pedophile:

Jeff: "You were coming on to me."
Hayley: "Oh, come on. That's what they always say, Jeff."
Jeff: "Who?"
Hayley: "Who? The pedophiles! 'She was so sexy. She was asking for it.' Or 'She was only technically a girl, she acted like a woman.' It's just so easy to blame a kid, isn't it?! Just because a girl knows how to imitate a woman does NOT mean she's ready to do what a woman does."

With premeditated determination, she turned the tables on him in his Hollywood Hills home (in a tense and suspenseful cat-and-mouse interplay regarding the "predator" and the "prey") when she drugged his drink, tied him up in a chair (told him: "Teenage? Yes. Joke? No"), and then threatened to castrate him (as "preventative maintenance") with a scalpel and anesthetic ice. [She faked Jeff's castration although it was gruesomely performed (off-screen).] She told him:

"I am every little girl you ever watched, touched, hurt, screwed, killed."

As he both berated her and pleaded with his raging and sadistic captor, she forced her repentant victim to confess to a murder that he may/may not have committed of a young model named Donna Mauer that he once photographed - it was clear that he was definitely an accessory to her murder.

In the plot's twist, it was revealed that Hayley had already kidnapped and tortured another pedophile named Aaron, Jeff's partner-in-crime during the murder of Donna (Hayley admitted: "Aaron told me you killed her, before he killed himself").

At the end of the film, after neighbor Judy Tokuda (Sandra Oh) arrived at the house and Jeff's ex-girlfriend Janelle Rogers (Jennifer Holmes/Odessa Rae) was on the way, Hayley and Jeff were on the roof, where she had strung a rope off the side. She offered to clean up incriminating evidence of him as a sexual predator in his home (he would also avoid prosecution and clear his name with Janelle) if he jumped and committed suicide, but at the last second when he stepped off the roof and the rope went taut, she promised with a caveat:

"I'll take care of it all - or not!"

[Note: In the mid-2000s, sadistic horror thrillers became extremely popular now that film audiences' threshold for sadistic and excessive gore (and guts), body mutilation, torture, and sickening violence had already been numbed by years of 'slasher' films. A new crop of low-budget "trash" horror scarefest films, often copycat horror flicks, was often tolerated and embraced by horror fans. The so-called "pseudo-snuff films" (dubbed "horror-porn," "torture-chic," "gore-nography," and "claustrophobic cruelty") were accused of being like a "sicko video game" - containing visceral violence and unheard-of human suffering that severely tested the limits of R ratings. Two franchises in particular were long-lasting in this violent sub-genre: Saw (2004) (with lucrative sequels from 2005-2010) and Hostel (2005) (followed by sequels in 2007 and 2011).]








The 100+ Most Controversial Films of All-Time
(chronologically, by film title)
Intro | Silents-1930s | 1940s-1950s | 1960-1961 | 1962-1967 | 1968-1969
1970-1971 | 1972 | 1973-1974 | 1975 | 1976-1977 | 1978 | 1979
1980-1982 | 1983-1986 | 1987-1989 | 1990-1992 | 1993-1995 | 1996-1999
2000-2002 | 2003-2005 | 2006-Present


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