Friday, February 4, 2011

Ah, Gay Cinema... A Top-Ten of Sorts...

There are a lot of bad LGBT movies out there. A. Lot. And I don't mean bad as in "The Christian right made a bunch of movies to make us all look like hedonistic bastards on the road paved for hell." I just mean badly conceived, badly written, badly directed, badly acted... Just bad. Two movies that come to mind that illustrate this point fantastically (and that is the only way to put a positive spin on these two films) are The House of Adam, which isn't quite sure whether it wants to be a crime mystery, a love story, or a horror film; and A Siren in the Dark, a wanna-be psychological horror film in which it seems the director (or someone else ill-qualified to make a film) found the use of the "play in reverse" feature on his camera to be the most phenomenal of tools... And don't even get me started on Dante's Cove and The Lair. I shudder at what people seem to think praise-worthy on gay television. (Dear LGBT community: Just because they're hot with their shirts off doesn't mean they can act, and just because the story features a gay lead doesn't mean it should be televised...) It's sad that most of the people creating television and movies for our community think that if you throw in a hot, shirtless guy, we won't notice everything else. That just isn't the case.

It almost makes a gay man want to commit suicide. Almost. Luckily, there are quite a few treasures out there, films done so well they are a credit to our community and to the film industry as a whole. Now realize I am no Siskel and Ebert; I am, however, a human being who can appreciate something done well and something done not-so-well. After all, I need not be a restaurant critic to know when a steak is prepared sensationally, or horribly horribly wrong. Therefore, if you find yourself needing something gay and GOOD to watch, here are my top-ten choices: The good, the better, and the best of (to date) the best I can find in queer cinema. Please note that I did not include Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, The Birdcage, or Too Wong Fu. By now you should know these are great gay films. If you didn't, now you do. They still aren't included below. Get over it. :) I'd also like to point out that these films are not perfect, but they are, however, a credit to their art and community. And while I also have not seen every LGBT film out there, it's easier to find the horrible ones than it is the good or great ones, which is why I felt the need to compile this list.

1. I begin with my all-time favorite to date: Latter Days (2003). So much my favorite I actually blogged about it immediately after viewing it.

Synopsis: A young Mormon missionary finds himself on a mission trip in Los Angeles, where he meets (and consequently falls into sin with) Christian, a young gay waiter who is known for his love of partying. A cliche type of bet is involved, but overall the plot is original, the characters will have you cheering, screaming, laughing, crying.

Director: C. Jay Cox
Writer: C. Jay Cox
Stars: Wes Ramsey, Steve Sandvoss, and Mary Kay Place

There are a few musical numbers by one of the co-stars, and the title song is by one of my all time favorite bands, Toad the Wet Sprocket. If it helps, it's by the same screenwriter that did Sweet Home Alabama (which, if you were me, that wouldn't help, but then again, that could just be me...). Overall, if you don't fall in love with this film, you are damaged. And by damaged, I mean severely. Get on the short bus, wear a helmet.

2. Hannah Free (2009). This gem was discovered one night through streaming Netflix on our Wii.

Synopsis: A sweet and touching story about an independent free-spirited feminist and her female lover. Hannah finds herself in an old-age home where she is unable to spend time with her dying partner with whom she has spent her life with since childhood. A great-granddaughter does what she can to bring them together without the consent of her grandmother.

Director: Wendy Jo Carlton
Writer: Claudia Allen
Stars: Sharon Gless, Maureen Gallagher, and Kelli Strickland

A beautiful film which captures a pure love between two women in the quiet Midwest. Hannah longed for freedom, but always came home to Rachel, and their unconventional relationship, long the talk of the small town, is vindicated when Rachel's daughter finally sees that love is love. Oh, how I cried!

3. BearCity (2010). We found this film from watching trailers from another film and procured it through disc on Netflix.

Synopsis: Tyler loves men--just not the typical skinny, pretty ones. Hairy, big, and manly, much to his twink roommates chagrin. But Tyler embraces his inner bear cub and goes out to find Mr. Right.

Director: Douglas Langway
Writers: Douglas Langway, Lawrence Ferber
Stars: Joe Conti, Gerald McCullouch, and Brian Keane

This lovely little romantic comedy had us alternately laughing and crying as it captured the whole subculture of the bear community with tenderness and compassion. Most gay cinema features your typical Abercrombie & Fitch-types, but this film embraced the bear community, bringing to light the fact that not all of us come in a size 32 jean, but we still love, are loved, and find love and joy within the gay community.

4. Strapped (2010). We also found this film from watching trailers from another film and procured it through disc on Netflix.

Synopsis: A young, handsome prostitute finds himself alternately lost and rescued in an apartment complex, learning about himself and others the harsher lessons of life, yet ultimately finding love.

Director: Joseph Graham
Writer: Joseph Graham
Stars: Ben Bonenfant, Nick Frangione, and Artem Mishin

I usually tend to avoid any film which makes prostitution or drugs seem commonplace, or "okay," as I have seen firsthand in my own family what such activities can lead to. However, the film takes the micro world of the complex and shows just how vastly different, yet the same, we all are as the young man travels from the penthouse to the basement and back. At times darkly humorous, tense, and romantic, it weaves together a story of learning about yourself through the actions and reactions of others. Truly well written, directed, and acted, this is one for the personal library.

5. Trick (1999). We first watched this film at a friends home during our monthly movie night, and is available through NetFlix on disc.

Synopsis: Gabriel, an aspiring musician in New York City, picks up a stripper at a local bar, and the evening is spent just trying to find a place where they can be alone together.

Director: Jim Fall
Writer: Jason Schafer
Stars: Christian Campbell, John Paul Pitoc, and Tori Spelling

A romantic comedy with it's fair share of humorous musical numbers, it's easy to relate to Gabriel's fascination with hunky Mark--sort of a nerd-meets-jock love story that will touch your heart and make you laugh at loud at times. And Tori Spelling is adorable, I just have to say it. :) You find out love can happen even if you can't find a place to make love, because it isn't all about sex. It's about the people who want to have it. :)

6. The Trip (2002). This lovely film is also available through NetFlix, disc only.

Synopsis: Tommy and Alan first meet in the 1970s, and they are political opposites. But they fall in love, and their story is followed through the 70s, 80s, and 90s as they navigate their way amid Tommy's secret past and Alan's gay-rights activism.

Director: Miles Swain
Writer: Miles Swain
Stars: Larry Sullivan, Steve Braun, and Ray Baker

The dialogue is at times contrived, and near the beginning the actors seem a bit stilted, as if unsure how wet they would like to get their feet, but soon we are plunged into the whirlwind romance of these two young men. Watching their, and their fellow actors', hairstyles and fashions change with the times is both hilarious and spot-on, and the car-hood stripping scene in the middle of the Mexican desert by Tommy is fantastic.

7. Shelter (2007). This film is available through NetFlix, disc only.

Synopsis: Zach's dreams of going to college are put on hold as he deals with one family emergency after another, all the while falling in love with his best friend's older brother, none of whom know Zach is gay.

Director: Jonah Markowitz
Writer: Jonah Markowitz
Stars: Trevor Wright, Brad Rowe, and Tina Holmes

A very touching film about the struggles of a young man to find his own identity amidst the chaos that is his home life, you can't help but root for Zach and the budding romance and escape he finds with his best friends older brother Shaun (played by Brad Rowe). They bond over a shared love of surfing, a love of art, and a love of reading. And let's face it--Brad Rowe is just nice to look at.

8. Camp (2003). Available through Netflix streaming, I first heard about this film from a co-worker.

Synopsis: High school misfits give up their summer vacation every year to attend Camp Ovation, a singing/dancing school that puts on a series of plays every year. This year, however, finds a jock named Vlad in attendance whom all the kids want to sleep with, and a new teacher who has had several Broadway flops turns to alcohol and teaching at Camp Ovation as a way to make ends meet.

Director: Todd Graff
Writer: Todd Graff
Stars: Don Dixon, Daniel Letterle, and Joanna Chilcoat

Next to these kids? Everyone who has ever auditioned for American Idol SUCKS. Not only are the musical numbers entertaining, well sung, and wonderfully choreographed, you feel their heart and soul. Some of these songs WILL get stuck in your head for weeks--and that's a good thing. The teenage angst is present, of course, but not only is it not over done, it also encompasses the true nature of what these teens are going through, from overbearing parents, demanding teachers, boyfriend/girlfriend problems, and a host of other daily issues for teens. A fantastic film!

9. C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005). We found this by accident through NetFlix and instantly fell in love...

Synopsis: Five brothers: Christian, Raymond, Antoine, Zachary and Yvan. But Zach is the only one who's gay, and has the added curse of being born on Christmas day, much to his Catholic mother's delight. Although truth be told all five brothers are very different, their father is a tough man who wants them to grow up to be men, not sissies. Zach retreats into music, unsure if he can live up to the expectations of his family.

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writers: François Boulay, Jean-Marc Vallée
Stars: Michel Côté, Marc-André Grondin, and Danielle Proulx

If you don't like "reading" movies, don't rent this film. It's in French. The boys get their names from their father's love of the song "Crazy" by Patsy Cline, a song I remember fondly from my own childhood. The emotional issues that come from having four siblings I could also identify with, as I have four of my own as well! Touching, poignant, and overall fantastic, it's well worth "the read," if you get my drift!

10. Fruit Fly (2009). We found this film through watching the trailers on Strapped (above), and were able to get it through NetFlix on disc.

Synopsis: A young woman who performs a traveling "performance art" piece arrives in San Francisco, still looking for a place to call home. She ends up living in an artists commune, unable to find a venue, and also unable to locate her biological mother.

Director: H.P. Mendoza
Writer: H.P. Mendoza
Stars: L.A. Renigen, Mike Curtis, and Theresa Navarro

Between the fantastic, catchy musical numbers (including "Fag-Hag," "We are the Hag," and "Enough About Me"), and the story of the young woman who is simply searching for a place to call home, you will be alternately dazzled and slightly disappointed. Sometimes the songs are a bit too quiet, hard to understand what is being sung, but most times they are loud, brazen, and thoroughly enjoyable. One young man performs a duet with himself via his laptop--truly hilarious and well done!

There are a few more I'd like to mention--we'll just call this the honorable-mentions category of our Top-Ten, films and television shows that should be checked out and enjoyed:

  • The Donald Strachy Crime Dramas, a series of films based on the novels by Richard Stevenson. Only four are presently available, and I have no idea if the rest of Richard's novels on the character will be made into film as well, but the four available thus far are: Third Man Out (2005), Shock to the System (2006), On the Other Hand, Death (2008), and Ice Blues (2008). Chad Allen stars as Detective Strachy in all four films, and his lover Timothy Callahan, played by Sebastian Spence, brings dry humor and a sense of grounding and home as Strachy finds himself in all sorts of troublesome spots. A great series which I hope continues!
  • The Broken Hearts Club (2000) is a story about a small group of gay friends from all walks of life just trying to find love. They all hang out (and some of them work at) a local restaurant, which also has it's own softball team, The Broken Hearts Club, of which most of them play for. Definitely a must see. And it helps to have Dean Cain as one of its feature stars. Love him!
  • Is It Just Me? (2009). A young aspiring writer can't seem to find love, and when he thinks he has found it, he realizes that he was using his roommates online profile at the time. The roommates pit brains against brawn to win this new young man's heart.
  • Flawless (1999). Neighbors in the same apartment complex in New York City from two very different worlds--a straight, tough cop and the very loud and out drag queen--find themselves leaning on one another due to a stroke on the part of the cop and a crime lord on the part of the drag queen. They find they are not so different after all, and form a friendship. Starring Robert De Niro and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I'm sure there are more you would like to add. Let me know what you've seen, what you've loved, and what you've hated! The only way to support quality LGBT films is to talk about them and give them props! (And hopefully, some of the very very bad filmmakers out there will either stop getting funding, or improve the quality of their work!) I guess we can only hope.

As it is, this list should be enough to get you started, and I do hope you enjoy them as much as I have! As I said, none of them are perfect films, but they are all GOOD films, and well worth the watch!

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