10. RAW DEAL: A QUESTION OF CONSENT (2001)
2001 was a vintage year, with the likes of DONNIE DARKO and MEMENTO in the dramatic competition, but according to the tabloids, the biggest story by far was this sleazy documentary about a frat-house rape caught on tape. It packed houses, scored a distributor, made the cover of the New York Post and that was pretty much the last we heard of it.
9. IRREVERSIBLE (2002, shown in 2003)
Sundance regular Gaspar Noe (back this year with INTO THE VOID) tells a grueling revenge story in reverse-chronolgical order, with a one-take nine-minute rape scene as its dubious centerpiece.
8. FRISK (1995, shown in 1996)
A decade before the advent of so-called torture porn, Todd Verow's arty, gruesome adaptation of Dennis Cooper's novel about a gay, snuff-obsessed serial killer scandalized gay and straight audiences alike. Some have called it the film that marked the end of the New Queer Cinema.
7. 9 SONGS (2004, shown in 2005)
The taboo of unsimulated on-screen sex has long been breached at the art house, in films like Carlos Reygadas's BATTLE IN HEAVEN and Patrice Chereau's INTIMACY, to name a couple that played at Sundance. But with this perversely joyless chronicle of a year-long romance, Michael Winterbottom devotes the better half of a movie to the act of intercourse.
6. WHAT IS IT? (2005)
Appropriately titled, the actor Crispin Glover's directing debut is an all-out atrocity exhibition, complete with blackface, swastikas, and snails salted and sliced on camera (with occasional death rattles voiced by Fairuza Balk).
5. KURT AND COURTNEY (1998)
Nick Broomfield's documentary on Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, in which various less-than-reliable subjects tenuously implicate the widow in the death of the grunge martyr, was one of the most anticipated films at Sundance '08. But the festival, under pressure from Love, who threatened to sue over music rights, pulled it at the last minute. An unofficial screening was held for a select group of invitees.
4. ZOO (2007)
Going far beyond previous racy taboo busters (e.g., the mother-son incest of SPANKING THE MONKEY), Robinson Devor's documentary investigates a fatal real-life sexual encounter between a man and a horse, and the really shocking thing does so without an ounce of sensationalism.
3. HOUNDDOG (2007)
"The Dakota Fanning rape movie" was the most talked-about film of the scandal-prone '07 lineup that also included "the vagina dentata movie" (TEETH) and "the horse-sex movie" (ZOO, see next item). But people stopped talking after the mobbed first screening of Deborah Kampmeier's unanimously panned southern gothic. A re-edited version slipped quietly into theaters two and a half years later.
2. POISON (1991)
The National Endowment for the Arts grant that was a tiny fraction of its small budget made Todd Haynes's film a lightning rod in the raging culture wars of the early '90s. Homophobic right-wingers (including Senator Jesse Helms and conservative minister Donald Wildmon) called for the resignation of NEA head John Frohnmayer, who briefly stood his ground before stepping down in 1992.
1. KIDS (1995)
Directed by veteran photographer Larry Clark and written by newcomer Harmony Korine, here was an in-your-face portrayal of the one thing guaranteed to freak out the right wing even more than gay sex: adolescent sex. The controversy only picked up after Sundance. Politicians (including Elizabeth Dole) weighed in with dutiful condemnations. Critics dropped disapproving phrases like "jail bait" and "kiddie porn." The film was slapped with an NC-17 rating. Unable to release it through Disney subsidiary Miramax, the Weinstien brothers bought the film back from their corporate bosses and formed an independent company for the express purpose of releasing KIDS.