Now that Oscar season has arrived once again, theaters will be filled with the kinds of high-profile films that are almost guaranteed to garner Academy nominations. Many of them are, as a rule, rather “serious” affairs, designed to appeal to a mass audience.
Moviegoers might be surprised to realize how often movies rated NC-17 or X at some point in their release have also received the prestige of being nominated for an Oscar. Regardless of the category they were nominated in, these were the types of films that pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable and what would be seen and accepted.
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
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There’s no doubt that Boys Don’t Cry is one of the most notable films about the LGBTQ+ community. Telling the painfully tragic story of Brandon Teena, the young trans man who was brutally murdered by his own friends.
Indeed, it was precisely the film’s unwavering portrayal of sexual violence that caused some issues with the rating. Although the film was eventually upgraded with an R rating, its initial NC-17 rating indicates how heartbreaking the material is. Despite this, the film was a critical darling and Hilary Swank received particular praise for the extent to which she was able to bring out the nuances of this particular character. She would ultimately win the Best Actress statue.
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
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Arguably, no X-rated film is more famous than Midnight Cowboy, which became the first film with such a rating to be nominated for an Oscar. With its story about a pair of male hustlers (Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman) who strike up an unusual and surprisingly resonant friendship that is nonetheless marred by tragedy and despair, it has pushed the boundaries of acceptability.
In fact, it’s precisely the film’s sadness, and the unwavering performances, not to mention its gritty depiction of the undersides of New York life, help explain why it’s garnered so many Oscar nominations. In fact, the X-rated film won the Best Picture Oscar.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
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Hollywood history is filled with notable literary adaptations. One of the most extraordinary and disturbing of these is A Clockwork Orange, based on the novel by Anthony Burgess. Given that it’s directed by Stanley Kubrick, it’s not afraid of disturbing imagery, and Malcolm McDowell’s feverishly intense Alex DeLarge performance is particularly noteworthy.
Given how explicitly the film depicts its dystopian future, it’s no surprise it’s slapped with an X rating. It would go on to be nominated for four Oscars – including one for Best Picture and one for Kubrick for the best director – even if he wouldn’t win any. The fact that he was named at all, however, shows how deftly he tapped into the anxieties of the early 1970s.
Last Tango in Paris (1972)
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The late Marlon Brando was one of the most respected, if idiosyncratic, actors of his generation. By focusing on a man who engages in a relationship with a young French girl, it provided the actor with a way to explore his abilities further.
What really sets the film apart, however, is its explicitness in depicting sexual violence and sex in general. Indeed, this is one of the few times sex has been seen in mainstream film. Although it caused a lot of controversy, it was also nominated for two Oscars, one for best actor and one for best director.
Blue Valentine (2010)
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There’s no doubt that Blue Valentine is one of Michelle Williams’ best movies, as it showcases so much of what makes her one of Hollywood’s most talented actresses. In this film, she plays Cindy Heller, one half of a marriage that gradually and disastrously crumbles over the course of the film.
Like many other films that received an NC-17 rating, the work of rating this one was due to its sexually explicit nature. On appeal, the film was upgraded with an R rating, and it went on to earn an Oscar nomination, with Michelle Williams being nominated for Best Actress. It was well deserved, as she managed to bring out the remarkable complexities of her character.
Taxi Driver (1976)
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Martin Scorsese is one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed directors, and from the start of his career he’s shown why that would be. In Taxi Driver, for example, he brought out the complex and troubled life of Travis Bickle, brought to life so memorable by Robert De Niro.
The film almost received an X rating due to the fact that it contained some of the most explicit scenes of violence ever seen on American movie screens. Scorsese told The Hollywood Reporter that he avoided the X rating by desaturating the film’s color to tone down the brightness of all the blood.
Y tu mama tambien (2001)
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Y tu mama tambien is widely and rightly considered one of Alfonso Cuaron’s best films. Combining the best of road movie and coming-of-age drama, it’s a rich and moving film that explores the complex inner lives of its characters.
However, he faced a number of challenges with his grades because, as was usually the case, there were concerns about his explicit depictions of sexuality. Despite the fact that it ultimately came out without any ratings, it still managed to earn an Oscar nomination, this time for Best Original Screenplay.
Henry and June (1990)
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There are many reasons to appreciate Henry & June, not the least of which is the fact that he sought to bring together both explicit sexuality and a certain nerd artistic sensibility. In particular, it focuses on a character’s growing involvement in the relationship between author Henry Miller and his wife.
It is, of course, a very finely crafted film, and it was largely due to its cinematography that it was able to earn an Oscar nomination (in that category). Additionally, it also features some very memorable performances from the late Fred Ward and Uma Thurman, both of which bring out the most in their characters.
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Every X-Rated/NC-17 Movie That Has Been Nominated For An Oscar | Pretty Reel