Gay films everyone should see
Fresh from Hollywood and just in time for the holidays, as they say . . . the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (galeca.org) today announced its membership’s picks for their second “GALECA Ten Best” list: The 10 Best LBGTQA Films GALECA Every Non-LGBTQA Person Should See, plus a few of my own personal recommendations
Oscar winners to community classics to modern independent discoveries — there’s a movie for every persuasion here.
Critics from the 120-member organization submitted their personal choices for the list, selecting titles from a list of guidelines. The picks had to be feature-length (70 minutes or longer) narrative films released theatrically in the US. TV movies, documentaries and short films were not eligible.
The primary goal of the GALECA members was to present films that we thought not only best reflected LGBTQA life and history — but which were also cinematically compelling and even groundbreaking. Accompanying the list was the explanation that: “We weren’t looking for a traditional list of feel-good, positive portrayals of our world. We looked for love and stars. Laughs and scars. Bad boys, mean girls and veritable wars. We looked at it all.
“The films on this list run the gamut, from realism to sensationalism to eye-catching stops in between. They may not always be the most perfect representations of our community, but they are facets. The sheer diversity in this list showcases just how broad LGBTQ entertainment journalists’ interests and influences reach — even in such a narrow category,” said their release.
Here, in alphabetical order, is:
GALECA’s Ten Best LBGTQA Films Non-LGBTQA Person Should See!
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: Twenty-one years ago, Australia brought the world this tale of the outlandish and endearing adventures of two drag queens and a transsexual, a trio who blaze a trail across the Outback to a drag performance at the continent’s center. Mitzi Del Bra (Hugo Weaving), Felicia Jollygoodfellow (Guy Pearce) and Bernadette Bassenger (Terence Stamp) embarked on a clandestine journey fueled by an infectious disco soundtrack (Gloria Gaynor! ABBA!) that would be at home in any good club.
More than portraying drag queens with a sensational truth, director Stephen Elliot’s joyful film glimmered with vibrant visuals and Oscar-winning costume design that remain influential today. Yet amid the lip-syncing, frock-wearing and smack-talking irreverence is a simple story of three men. One wants to be there for his son (Weaving). One wants to escape the misery surrounding the departure of an accepting husband. One just wants to explore life outside the cesspool of the big city without realizing that finding safety so far from home isn’t as easy as it seems. A holiday parable, if you will.
(U.S. release date: August 10, 1994. Running time: 104 minutes. Fox Home Entertainment.)
Boys Don’t Cry: A provocative milestone in LGBTQA cinema, co-writer/director Kimberly Peirce’s knockout feature debut relays the true-life story of Brandon Teena (Oscar winner Hilary Swank). Born Teena Brandon, as a young trans man Brandon assumed his male identity and went out looking for love, peace and harmony in the politically repressed community of Falls City, Nebraska. Living in the closet, Brandon found little peace and harmony, but he did find love in the form of a woman, Lana Tisdel (Oscar-nominated Chloë Sevigny). His love and his time here would be short-lived.
Upon release, Boys Don’t Cry opened up widespread dialogue about gender identity, violence toward the LGBTQA community, female sexuality and a lot more that, frankly, too many take for granted as par for the discourse in today’s discussion about queer identity, theory and rights. Let your conversations begin.
(U.S. release date: Oct. 8, 1999. Running time: 116 minutes. Fox Searchlight Pictures.)
Brokeback Mountain: Modern audiences have become increasingly more accepting of gay relationships on the big screen, with much of the credit going to the decades-spanning Brokeback Mountain. Painted with humanity and genuine emotion by master filmmaker Ang Lee, the film followed two ranch hands, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), as they find love and fairly graphic passion on a bleak mountainside in 1963. Returning to the “normal” world, over the years they find their hearts crushed by the strictures of society.
Ledger and Gyllenhaal, both nominated for Oscars, are superb crafting scintillating portrayals of tortured gay men at a time that the general public demeaned and isolated them. One the most famous and influential gay dramas ever made, the Brokeback Mountain speaks achingly to the power of love, regardless of gender, and to the unhealthy mandates of a society that builds itself on prejudice and hate. And the ending puts it in the ranks of classic tear-jerkers like Splendor in the Grass.
(Release date: December 9, 2005. Running time: 134 minutes. Focus Features.)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch: The film version of John Cameron Mitchell’s stage musical, about an East German singer who attempts to come to terms with the botched sex-change operation that left her with an “angry inch,” has rightly developed a cult following. Taking musical conventions and turning them on their bejeweled ear, the movie digs its painted nails into an infrequently celebrated subculture and winds up more than enlightening.
Starring Mitchell in the title role, Hedwig angrily, but astutely, observes the state of gender identity at the turn of the 21st Century, long before the transgender rights movement went into full swing. It’s a rousing, intense experience— powered by original, hard-pounding rock tunes — that demands at least one viewing even if said intensity seems initially off-putting. Sorry Dr. Frank-N-Furter, but this is one triumphant, and wicked, little musical.
(U.S. release date: January 19, 2001. Running time: 91 minutes. New Line Cinema)
The Kids Are All Right: In the end, all any of us can hope for is a little piece of this world where we can build a family and live the life we’ve always wanted. Co-writer/director Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right vividly paints the portrait of a suburban family whose peaceful veneer is cracked by curiosity and doubt. Starring Oscar nominees Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a lesbian couple whose two children (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) seek out and insert their biological father (Oscar-nominated Mark Ruffalo) into their dynamic, the film tackles common issues facing many modern families.
Equally strong performances from Ruffalo, Wasikowska and Hutcherson make this a wonderful slice of modern-family life, albeit a slightly idealized version. Anyone who champions a functional and loving world will find Kids perfect long-weekend company.
(U.S. release date: July 9, 2010. Running time: 104 min. Focus Features.)
Longtime Companion: That title suggests coziness, but Companion’s subject matter — and effect — is profound. Exploring the AIDS epidemic at a time when film was too afraid to even utter the acronym, this drama, set in the early 1980s, features a group of gay friends as they come to terms with the mysterious disease that is killing them off. The panic and the outcry within the community contrasting, the prejudice and willful ignorance on both sides . . . this is a true tragedy.
The film’s cinematic importance cannot be understated. The film’s studio release, at a time when the fear of AIDS was reaching a nadir, was something of a marvel. Another brick in the wall of hate crumbled. Knowing this film is tantamount to feeling enlightened and enriched.
(U.S. release date: May 11, 1990. Running time: 100 minutes. Samuel Goldwyn Company.)
Maurice: Who doesn’t love a clandestine period romance compliments of Merchant-Ivory productions? In 1909, Maurice (James Wilby) meets fellow Cambridge student Clive Durham (Hugh Grant). At first each man is unsure if the other is, well, you know . . . and it’s not like they can ask around to find out. As the two negotiate their feelings, the pressures of society mount until one of them — spoiler ahead — capitulates to the bourgeois society and enters into — oh, dear — a lovelorn marriage. The remaining bachelor moves on, hoping to find the love that does not bare its name.
Director and cowriter James Ivory’s adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel exquisitely captures the love and longing of young gay men in Edwardian England. From the sets to the scenery to the (Oscar-nominated) costumes, the film is loaded with such style, one may wish it were once again those grand ol’ repressive times. Viewers will relish, though, the progressive-thinking capper. Sit down, swap out Downton Abbey, and pass the cognac.
(U.S. release date: Sept. 1, 1987. Running time: 139 mins. Lorimar Home Video.)
Milk: Featuring a thoughtful, tour-de-force performance by Sean Penn (Oscar’s choice for Best Actor), director Gus Van Sant’s biopic of civil rights icon Harvey Milk — the first openly gay person to be elected to office in California (in 1978) and who was later assassinated by a former colleague — stands as a supremely affecting biopic.
Politics, betrayal, love, lust, jealousy, suicide — Milk’s story was all there in the halls of history, and the screenplay by Lance Black (also an Oscar-winner) brought it to vivid life before our eyes. James Franco charms as one of Milk’s lovers. And, yes, Josh Brolin chillingly evinces the icon’s killer Dan White. But Milk’s message of courage lasts on and on, instilling an image of its firebrand subject as fun, big-hearted, confident and persistent. He’s good company.
(U.S. release date: Nov. 26, 2008. Running time: 128 min. Focus Features.)
My Beautiful Laundrette: Set against the backdrop of Thatcher’s tumultuous and reactionary England, director Stephen Frears’ film tells the tale of two lovers, Omar (Gordon Warnecke), a Pakastani, and his old friend, Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis), a local gang member. Thanks to Omar, the two begin to run a laundry matt together. But this is lower-class England, where there is always trouble looming for immigrants and young, gay men.
Featuring Hanif Kureishi’s Oscar-nominated screenplay, My Beautiful Laundrette sets itself in a milieu where most films, let alone gay films, fear to tread. Its characters are real working class people with real, hard-to-fix problems. Laundrette also put Day-Lewis, in just his fourth film, on Hollywood’s hot list. For good reason! (U.S. release date: Sept. 7, 1985. Running time: 93 mins. Orion Classics.)
Weekend: One Friday night, Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New) meet at a gay club. The two go back to Russell’s and have sex. From that night on, these two strangers begin to develop an intimate and somewhat intellectual relationship, delving into the nature of identity and love over the course of a weekend. Russell and Glen’s encounter will leave an indelible impression on each other — and viewers as well.
The youngest title on our list, writer-director Andrew Haigh’s second narrative feature was also GALECA’s Dorian Award winner for 2011’s Film of the Year and LGBT-Themed Film of the Year. Obviously, we dig this film. What more do we need to say?
(U.S. release date: Sept. 23, 2011. Running time: 96 min. IFC Films.)
(Compiled by GALECA members John Esther and Wesley Lovell)
Several Overlooked Lesbian Films
Ed. Note: My own list would also include several more LGBT films, especially Thelma and Louise (1991) which was a groundbreaking mainstream film about what many consider the most dramatic lesbian adventure story ever told. Then there is the most talked about lesbian film of last year, the sexually explicit Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013). But nothing topples David Lynch’s extraordinary neo-noir puzzle Mulholland Drive (2001), featuring a career-best turn from Naomi Watts as a budding actor who strikes up a passionate relationship with an amnesiac woman – or does she? And then there are films like Bound (1996) and Tomboy (2011) which were great films to watch as well. On the gay front – so well covered in the list above – I would add Latter Days (2003), mostly because the tensions created by religious doctrine and gay men is a perfect set up for dramatic situations.(LM)
The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA) sponsors the Dorian Awards, annually honoring movies and TV programs from mainstream to gaystream. GALECA is comprised of over 120 professional critics, and journalists who cover the worlds of film and/or TV on an active basis for legitimate media outlets — from broad-appealing to LGBTQ-centric — in the United States, Canada and the U.K. Our members write or report for the likes of Out, Vanity Fair, TV Guide, Us Weekly, Buzzfeed, the Associated Press, The Hollywood Reporter, The Wrap and Variety; radio and TV entities including NBC affiliates, CNN, Sirius XM, BBC 2 radio and KGO FM San Francisco; and regional outlets such as The San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, South Florida Gay News and Frontiers L.A.
GALECA is an established 501 C-6 nonprofit (business league classification) with the IRS. We aim to generate camaraderie in an unsettling media environment, champion constructive film and TV criticism and elevate entertainment journalism as a whole. We also strive to remind the world that the LGBTQ-munity has a significant history of helping to improve pop culture at large. After all, how would the world fare without knowing what’s campy?