LET'S TALK ABOUT SEX

HelenHuntandJohnHawkes.jpg

This Season: Nicholas Barber's highlight is a film that deals in naked truths

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, January/February 2013

Whenever the topic of film censorship comes up, sex and violence are lumped together, as if you can’t have one without the other. But while violence is right at the heart of mainstream cinema, sex is usually relegated to a quick leering shot of Megan Fox in her underwear. A film that’s actually about sex—how it feels, why it matters—is rare indeed, and that’s just one reason why "The Sessions" is so remarkable. John Hawkes (exceptional in "Winter’s Bone" and "Martha Marcy May Marlene") stars as Mark O’Brien, a poet and journalist who was left immobile by childhood polio. At the age of 38, he decides that it’s high time he lost his virginity, and so, with the approval of his hippie Catholic priest (William H. Macy), he hires a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) who’s also a happily married mother. It would have been easy for "The Sessions" to become mawkish and solemn—"The King’s Speech" with more chat about orgasms. But its writer-director, Ben Lewin, keeps things miraculously modest and matter-of-fact. He has made a wry, intimate comedy drama, with unshowy performances from actors who just happen to spend much of their screen time naked. "The Sessions" is a film about sex aimed at people old enough to have it. Naturally, the American poster doesn’t even hint at the subject matter.

The Sessions British release Jan 18th, out now in America

AT A GLANCE

The Impossible (out now in Britain and America). A disaster movie that will have you hugging your children and cancelling your holiday. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts play a couple searching for survivors after the 2004 tsunami; Tom Holland shines as their son.

Les Misérables (Jan 11th/out now). The record-breaking musical makes it to the big screen after decades of failed attempts. Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway are among the actors who did their singing live on set rather than in a recording studio.

Django Unchained (Jan 18th/out now). A freed slave (Jamie Foxx) guns for a moustache-twirling plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Tarantino’s "roaring rampage of revenge". Expect Spike Lee to condemn it any day now.

Lincoln (Jan 25th/out now). Spielberg can be hard to stomach in Important Historical Cinema mode, but this is a must, given that Daniel Day-Lewis performances come around as often as presidential elections. Tom Shone, page 114.

Zero Dark Thirty (Jan 25th/out now). Jessica Chastain’s CIA agent leads the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, so it’s sure to be almost unbearably tense, even if we all know how the story ends.

Hitchcock (Feb 8th/out now). In this year’s "My Week with Marilyn", Anthony Hopkins dons a fatsuit to direct "Psycho", a film no studio wanted to make. Helen Mirren plays his wife and collaborator, Alma Reville; Scarlett Johansson (below) steps into the most famous shower in the movies.

A Liar’s Autobiography (Feb 8th/out now). The closest we’ll ever get to a new Monty Python film. Graham Chapman’s audio tape of his own tragicomic memoir is fused with 15 different styles of 3D animation, plus the voices of the surviving Pythons. Only Eric Idle refused to join the fun.

This is 40 (Feb 14th/out now). The second Judd Apatow comedy with 40 in the title revisits two characters from "Knocked Up". But will there be any sign of Katherine Heigl, who lambasted that film’s sexism?

Nicholas Barber is a film critic at the Independent. His recent posts for the Editors' Blog include Call yourself a sushi chefThe Rushdie ratings and Slobs in perfect T-shirts.