If there's one place where where big-screen nudity doesn't seem to be going away, it's in the comedy genre. Maybe steamy sex thrillers like "Basic Instinct" have gone kind of extinct (though "Trance" and "Side Effects" did their best to bring back some of that flavor in 2013), or maybe they've felt played out. Either way, nudity seems to have retreated to the realm of laughs, and often to the specific territory of masculinity in crisis. Because, let's face it, the uncomfortableness of having Ryan Gosling's hulking, chiseled manhood in your face is terrifyingly funny if you're Steve Carell. The scene is essentially Gosling, the lothario, trying to teach Carell, the divorcee, how to get back in the game, but it's set in a locker room while Gosling is butt naked and Carell's head comically and pointedly blocks the young man's junk from being exposed. It's a tease, but it's a damn funny and effective one, and what the hell, we get a very clear view of his abs.
The first nude fight scene between two men in a mainstream movie? Spectacular, kind of gross, jaw-droppingly awesome. In Larry Charles' excellent, subversive, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," Borat, (Sacha Baron Cohen’s fictitious Kazakh journalist/buffoon/genius Borat Sagdiyev from “Da Ali G” show) comes to America to make a documentary on the greatest nation on the planet for the Kazakh Ministry of Information. He comes with his producer Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian) to the "US and A" and instantly becomes smitten with an image of Pamela Anderson, making it his life goal to meet her and have her fall in love with him. Unfortunately, things get heated and come to blows when Sagdiyev catches Bagatov masturbating to a photo of Anderson. All hell breaks loose and it becomes a naked free-for-all brawl with one skinny, apparently well-endowed Kazakh reporter and one incredibly hirsute, sweaty and corpulent producer. It’s, ahem, pardon the phrase, balls out, hysterical and perhaps the finest moment of nudity, action and comedy ever to be caught on film.
Bernardo Bertolucci's Paris-set film is a charming (if aimless) look at the sexual coming-of-age of three youngsters who love movies almost as much as they love each other. The sexuality is frank, in that fumbling, initial-encounters way (enough to earn the movie another unwarranted NC-17; an R-rated version had to trim three whole minutes of footage). Bertolucci is an equal-opportunity provocateur, though, and while there are plenty of shots that luxuriate in Eva Green's curves, there are just as many moments accentuating Michael Pitt and Louis Garrel's respective anatomies (sometimes within the same sequence). "The Dreamers" has never acquired the cult status it so desperately deserves, although we're sure that it's a favorite of many Mr. Skin subscribers (especially after Green's high-profile turn as a Bond girl in "Casino Royale").
The nude sequence in "The Crying Game" is basically a spoiler for the entire movie, so if for some reason you haven't seen Neil Jordan's kicky, kinky, psychosexual thriller, turn back now. Still there? Okay. So it's possible that a nude scene hasn't carried so much weight, both in terms of narrative shock value and general surprise, either before or after this one. In the sequence, Dil (Jaye Davidson), who has attracted the romantic attention of both an IRA killer (Stephen Rea) and one of their hostages (Forest Whitaker) is revealed to in fact not be the woman she looks like she is, in an expertly graphic way. In the words of Aerosmith, dude looks like a lady. And the fact that Jordan plucked Davidson from relative obscurity (this is before the Internet ruined everything for everyone) really added to the surprise. It was all anyone could talk about (unless someone was around who hadn't seen the movie). Sad, too, that Davidson has had only one more decent-sized role – as an intergalactic demigod in "Stargate." Gender lines are blurred in outer space, too.
Famously, Alexander Payne is a stickler for realism (we've heard stories about how he despises little things like when windshields are too clean in movies) and oftentimes he finds humor in the awkward stickiness of everyday life. He approaches nude scenes in the same way – these aren't the toned, gym-honed bodies you get in standard Hollywood fare. These are real people, with love handles and lumps and body hair (Look no further than M.C. Gainey's amazing full-frontal moment in "Sideways"). Payne took this edict to a hilariously absurd degree in his masterful "About Schmidt," when Kathy Bates gets out of a hot tub, briefly exposing the full enchilada. The scene goes by in a flash, which only adds to its impact – you can't quite believe what you saw. But yes, you did. You saw Kathy Bates' junk. Love.