I havent seen a movie with explicit sex yet thats been worth a damn. All of these movies just plain suck. Caligula bout ruined Malcolm McDowells career even. Chloe Sevigny hurt her career with that Brown Bunny drivel.
So you ask why cant there be a great movie with explicit sex? Ill answer that with a question. When is it necessary to have explicit sex in movies? Ive seen plenty of simulated sex in film that aroused me way more than any porno. Why have explicit sex in movies?
In response to Tongo's "So you ask why cant there be a great movie with explicit sex..."
Well, you really didn't answer the question of whether or not a great film can have sex. You just kind of punted it. But I'll play along. It clearly seems that you have a problem with sex in films, and coming from a conservative upbringing I find that completely understandable. Whether it's a religious philosophy or a general discomfort regarding sex, everyone has a right to be turned off by sexually explicit material in a film. And you can choose to not watch it.
There are many critics who believe there is nothing wrong with arousal in films. Roger Ebert wrote a positive review for the Angelina Jolie movie Original Sin, stating sometimes it's nice to see good looking people having sex. And that healthy, loving sex is vilified in the media so much that the vilification seeps into our own lives. Now, I'm guessing you're going to call that view ludicrous, so I'm not going to defend it (though I agree with it).
I will take issue with your assertion that sex must equal arousal, and therefor must be pornography. It's my opinion that sex in films are not always used for arousal, and sometimes the visual depiction of sex is the most direct way of communicating an idea to an audience.
I've already given examples of films that depict sexual acts in a brutal, no arousing way. Antichrist, Blue Valentine, and Lust Caution. I've stated that Fargo was certainly not arousing. But you may not consider these "great movies", or haven't even seen them (I hated Antrichrist and Lust Caution myself).
So I looked at AFI's 100 best films and took out two examples where sex and nudity are used in non-arousal situations. There are more examples on this list, but I'll just stick with two.
#8 on the list is Schindler's List. During one scene, the Nazi's take off the clothing of their Jewish prisoners to evaluate their physical fitness. There are graphic depictions of nudity of both male and female genitalia. Visually, this brings home the idea that the Jewish people were treated like cattle. I don't think anyone could say they were aroused by this scene. Film is a visual medium and one of the first rules of screenwriting is to show, not tell. Too much dialogue or explaining can take away the impact of the visual nature of a film. So, in this scene, would it had been more effective if we were just told that they were naked?
Schindler's List also has a depiction of a sex act between Ammon Goette and a young woman. This scene is immediately followed by random killings of the Jewish workers (Ammon shooting them from his balcony). In this scene, the opulence and debauchery of Goette his heightened because he has rather meaningless sex directly before shooting a number of prisoners. In this scene, sex, murder, they're all the same to the man. And he appears to take no pleasure in both. He is a psychopath. The scene is portrayed without any dialogue. Again, it's certainly not arousing. I personally do not believe that this scene would have as much impact if it were just talked about.
#70 on the list is A Clockwork Orange. Now, many people thought the film was pornographic when it was first released and it was slapped with an X rating. That has been lowered to an R since then, but I understand the viewpoint. But again, I'm going off your assumption that nudity and sex is only used for arousal.
The film is about images. Kubrick was a visual director who used little to no dialogue in his films (like 2001). For us to believe the story of a young man who has to be cured of his evils, we have to first believe that what he does is evil. And this is shown by two somewhat graphic rapes at the beginning of the film. When I first saw the film, I threw up. The depictions are so cold and isolated that one really gets the feeling of the horror and randomness of these situations. Again, Kubrick deals with images, and to simply say "Alex raped a few people" would not have the visceral and emotional impact that the images provide. These scenes were not arousing at all.
So here are two "officially" great films that show graphic acts of sex and nudity, do not elicit arousal, are used to forward the themes and plots of the films, and use the language of the visual image to portray their scenes.
So, I put the question back to you. Are Spielberg and Kubrick pornographers? Should these films not be considered great because they visualize sex? Would these scenes have the same impact that they did without these scenes? And am I a pervert because I found meaning in these films?
Plus, Maclom McDowell's career was not ruined by Caligula. If that were the case, Clockwork Orange (where he shows just as much nudity) would have ended it. Per his biography, his career slowed because he was initially typecast as the young villain, and as he aged, his career took a nose dive.