I could (and will) make a case that the single best sex scene ever filmed, certainly my favorite, is in Steven Soderbergh‘s Out Of Sight (or as the cool kids say, Oceans 10). George Clooney is the charming bank robber, Jennifer Lopez is the sexy US Marshall. Clearly the movie is more interested in letting the actors and the audience have fun (in the way Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn do in Charade, but it is equally worth a mention that it is a part of the trifecta of high quality Elmore Leonard adaptations in the 1990s (Jackie Brown and Get Shorty being the other two). This is a movie star picture of the highest quality, even if Clooney and Lopez were far from A-Listers at the time. A case could be made that this is Lopez‘s only good performance in a movie (she is a solid 10/10 in the acting department here) that hangs a crime plot around the romance and sexual desire of two good looking people in completely opposite professions who feel a spark during a chance encounter. Fantasy and desire and the danger of the whole thing cause them to flirt with the idea of a sexual time-out. Scenes of flirtation in a bar are intercut with foreplay in hotel room while the intimate handheld camera is often in closeup with little gestures and body language. Snow falls outside a warmly lit hotel room.
Structurally this scene is incredibly ambitious (it owes inspiration to the nearly pornographic scene in Don’t Look Now, a dark and moody thriller that couldn’t be further from this glossy crime/romance picture. Here the scene is slick but tasteful, and anything but gratuitous (a claim often made in Don’t Look Now). Why would you want a sex scene tasteful and glossy? Well, you’ll understand after you see this scene just what can be done with the right editing rhythm, lighting and angles. Soderbergh experiments with time and space and uses the audio as the bridge between the two (and he would carry these experiments much further with the underseen The Limey one year later). It’s a knock out of a scene on its own, but seen as the real climax of Out of Sight, in context with the rest of the film (a snippet of dialogue says it best, “It’s like seeing someone for the first time, and you look at each other for a few seconds, and there’s this kind of recognition like you both know something. Next moment the person’s gone, and it’s too late to do anything about it.“), this scene, for me, is some sort of cinema landmark.