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Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Picking Fights With Lists
I usually ignore those "XXty Greatest XXXXXX Movies" lists because, honestly, the lists are so subjectively put together and so barely plausible in their justifications of what belongs on the list and what doesn't that it becomes a fool's game to try to make any sense of them. And, shockingly, I find it hard to believe that anyone really cares how many of the "200 Greatest Car Chase Films" I've seen. But then AfterElton had to go and make a list of the 50 Greatest Gay Movies, and I realized that, oh yeah, I can be infuriatingly opinionated about gay films.
1. Brokeback Mountain: It's probably fair to quibble over whether or not this really qualifies as a "gay" film. Everyone involved in the production was straight, after all, but it's probably the most successful and well made film on gay themes to come out so far. The acting is superb, and it's an emotionally moving story, but it's problematic that the most widely acclaimed gay love story set to film is about two closeted men, one of whom dies at the end.
2. Beautiful Thing: The gay film genre is crowded with coming out stories, so it's nice to see the best example of the trope placed so highly, as it really is the only one you ever need to see to know everything there is to know about that particular sub-genre.
3. Shelter: I suspect this film places as highly as it does because it's very recent and well regarded. And it is a good film, to be sure, I'm just not certain it's "third best gay film" good. It's another coming out story, and it has the pacing problems common to independent films, but it's mercifully free of that irritating gratuitous male nudity that many gay films feel obligated to have while still showing intimacy between men very tenderly and believably.
4. Latter Days: Another film to benefit from recent memories, I suspect. It's a coming out film, again, but the religious back-ground of the story is an innovative and compelling variation of the genre, and the film-makers deserve some credit for taking the "sexy Mormon" subgenre of porn mainstream and taking it seriously.
5. Maurice: Unwatchable, melodramatic clap-trap, in my opinion.
6. Trick 7. Get Real
8. Big Eden: A surprisingly good film about being gay in a small town, even if the notion that no one in rural Montana is homophobic or racist is a bit fantastic.
9. The Broken Hearts Club
10. The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert: While the film is worth watching at least once, it inspired America's love affair with films about magical drag queens that solve people's problems, and I'm afraid that is a sin it cannot be forgiven for. And no, lots of shirtless Guy Pearce scenes don't make up for it.
11. Longtime Companion: A bit too earnest to really be good or enjoyable, but historically an important film. And still loads better than what Hollywood gave us when they decided to finally acknowledge AIDS.
12. Torch Song Trilogy: The second gay film I ever saw, and still one of the best. It's a funny, humanistic story about one man's search for love, and is easily one of those films that everyone really owes it to themselves to see at some point.
13. My Beautiful Laundrette: Probably my choice for "best gay film" and another one of those movies that anyone who calls themselves a film fan should have watched by now. One of the things I like most about it is the casual, matter-of-fact way that the gay relationship is handled. It's a film about two gay men in which the central conflicts have nothing to do with their sex lives, and that's still remarkably rare.
14. Parting Glances: A film important to indie film history and gay film history...and yeah, that's about it. It's at best mediocre, and even after all these years I strain to find any reason why everyone is so hung up over Steve Buscemi's character, as he's just a morose loser.
15. Just a Question of Love 16. Mysterious Skin
17. Summer Storm: Hey, everybody! They remade Beautiful Thing in German!
18. The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Really? Fifty films to list and you put this one there? Don't get me wrong, I love it for the pansexual, cacophonous riot it is, but to put it on a "best gay films" list is to narrow the point of the film so much as to make it laughable.
19. The Birdcage: And every gay man who voted for this film needs to go ahead and slap themselves right now. Hard. And promise never to take any drugs before voting in an online poll ever again. While the original French version might (and that's a pretty fucking conditional "might") deserve some leeway for being both a product of it's time and French, the people who unleashed this abomination on the world have no excuse. Unfunny, homophobic and just plain bad are the three words that come to mind when I think of this gut-churningly awful movie.
20. Sordid Lives
21. Hedwig and the Angry Inch: An amazing film with a fantastic soundtrack, that also feels strangely limited by trying to pin it down as just a "gay" film. You need to see it. It's as simple as that.
22. Shortbus: John Cameron Mitchell managed to pull off what many have tried to do and failed miserably at; making a sexually explicit film that is both dramatically satisfying and non-pornographic. It's a brilliant work, and I wish I could recommend it unconditionally, but I can't, because there is a lot of sex in this movie, in occasionally graphic detail. It works, because sex is such an important aspect of how humans relate to one another, and it never feels exploitative or cheap in the film. But we're Americans, we don't want sex in our films, especially not anything that reeks of non-heteronormative serially monogamous sex.
23. All Over the Guy: It's telling that I had to look to see who was in this film to remember if I'd seen it or not. It's that memorable. I remember enjoying it, but apparently it was very slight.
24. Another Gay Movie: A guilty pleasure. I'm not sure if it's a good thing or not that the gay film genre has matured enough that we can get cheap, exploitative teenage sex comedies on the level of American Pie, but we've got 'em.
25. Boys in the Band: It's a little disappointing this didn't place higher, as historically it's an important film, but it can be very hard going, especially to viewers used to more positive and upbeat gay films. It's probably best to view it as something of a time capsule; this used to be the reality for gay men all over the country. And, you know, it's actually good. It's funny when it needs to be funny, and dramatic when it needs to be dramatic, and pretty much every character is memorable and recognizable. And it's got one of the best "character introduction" lines in film history: "What I am, Michael, is a 32 year-old, ugly, pock marked Jew fairy, and if it takes me a little while to pull myself together, and if I smoke a little grass before I get up the nerve to show my face to the world, it's nobody's god damned business but my own. And how are you this evening?"
26. Philadelphia: How telling that when Hollywood finally deigned to making a movie about AIDS, it was all about a straight man learning to have pity on those disgusting faggots.
29. The Wedding Banquet: Ang Lee's first crack at a gay movie, and slightly more relateable than his masterpiece. It's obviously an earlier example of his work, but there's some nice character development here, with more recognizable motivations.
31. My Own Private Idaho: The fetishistic devotion some people have to this film astounds me. It's really, honestly, not very good, with some truly dreadful acting and an absolutely charisma-less leading man. It's cold and emotionally uninvolving, but one of the stars died young, so we have to pretend that it was some great work of genius.
32. Jeffrey: One of my favorite films, to be sure. Yes, it's fluff. But it's funny, but a gay romantic comedy was almost unheard of at the time, and it managed to deal with the reality of AIDS without getting (too) preachy. Plus, it's the finest work of Patrick Stewart's career. He's amazingly good in this.
33. The Trip
34. Edge of Seventeen: It's...okay. It's, yet again, a coming out film. Anderson Gabyrich is good in it, but the main cast are not particularly compelling, and the big dramatic "coming out" scene is so unintentionally comically melodramatic that screen-writer Todd Stephens even parodies it in his later film Another Gay Movie.
35. Priest: You watch it now, and you're hard-pressed to see why it was so gosh-darned controversial at the time of release. I guess, given all the things people suspect of Catholic priests nowadays, for one's big bad secret to be that he's gay is small potatoes. Still, it has a love scene that I've had more than one straight man tell me almost converted them.
36. In & Out: This is just merely bad. It has it's heart in the right place, but that's about all you can say in the film's favor. And yes, some men come out late in life, but it strains believability to think that a man could reach his fifties without the question ever occurring to him.
37. Eating Out: Utter garbage, and patently offensive. The "gay guy in love with straight guy" angle is played out and tired in porn! The only reason why anyone ever recommends this movie is the nudity. It certainly can't be for the plot or acting, because you know what? THERE ISN'T ANY! So, naturally, it was a massive success and generated a sequel...
38. Velvet Goldmine: A love-letter to the glam rock era. It's very good, and criminally under-rated, with fantastic music. The pastiche of Citizen Kane was a clever touch, and the shadow of Oscar Wilde that hangs over it is a brilliant element as well. For you slash fans, it also has Obi-Wan making out with Batman.
39. Angels in America
40. Love! Valour! Compassion!: I know I've seen it. But, even straining, all I can remember is that John Glover plays a stock "tragically doomed" gay man. So not a very memorable or compelling picture, then.
41. The Sum of Us: Amazingly, this is not the film which gave rise to the phrase "maybe someday Russell Crowe will play a straight character." Father/Son dynamics are frequently overlooked in gay themed films, as most film-makers seem obsessed to nearly Freudian levels with dysfunctional Mother/Son relationships. It's nice to see the focus turned the other way, especially since this is also one of those rare Father/Son films in which the Son is not beset with maddening Daddy Issues.
42. Burnt Money
43. Transamerica: I want to like it, but ultimately I just find it a little too problematic. I get prickly about actresses being cast as male-to-female transsexuals, especially when, as in this case, they seem to have cast a woman only to have an excuse to bury her in prosthetics to make her look like a man. She doesn't, she looks like a woman in a prosthetic mask.
44. Victor Victoria: Now, I love Blake Edwards. I love Julie Andrews. I love James Garner. I love Lesley Ann Warren. I love Robert Preston. And I love the songs. But this? Very much of it's time. You've got the "Magical Fairy" thing going on with Robert Preston's character, you've got the "he thinks he's in love with a man, but he's really a she" bit that worked in Elizabethan drama and not since. It's an amusing little comedy with some pleasant actors to watch, but oh, it can be cringe-making viewed out of it's time and place.
45. Bent 46. Yossi and Jager 47. Bad Education 48. Gods and Monsters
49. Making Love: Any goodwill the film might have earned is undone when you remember that it came with a fucking disclaimer.
Why No Love? The films I'm surprised not to see on the list. Adam and Steve: It suffers a bit from indie-itis at times, but it's a refreshingly mature romantic comedy that deals with issues that many, if not most, gay men will recognize and relate to. It's not a fantasy of gay life, nor is it a melodrama, but it's warm and funny and squishy-feeling romance. Straight-Jacket: A snappy comedy about a closeted, Rock Hudson-esque actor, set against the back-drop of the anti-Communist witch-hunts in Hollywood. It's got great comic timing and characters, and a setting that's been underused. The Ritz: The first gay film I ever saw. It's another one of those time-capsule films, possibly best viewed today as a reminder of what the gay world was like. But it's an early gay-themed film in which the gay characters are not the butt of the jokes. And I can only imagine how the world reacted to the notion of a comedy set inside a bath-house. It's worth seeing for Rita Moreno's role alone, in any case. The Hanging Garden: Magical realism comes to gay drama. It's a heavily symbolic film with the lines between reality and fantasy and shared fantasy heavily blurred.
Oh Thank God It Wasn't Listed Hellbent: If anyone ever tells you this is a good movie, you can safely ignore their opinion on anything. Even by the standards of "basic cable stars in peril" horror movies, this is a sub-par example of the genre. That we're meant to pretend that it is somehow transgressive or ground-breaking because all the victims are gay is just perplexing, if not downright insulting. Honestly, we're supposed to be glad that the "the gay guy dies at the end" school of film-making has come back?