Friday, March 03, 2006
Top 10: Homo Superior
Much has been written about Brokeback Mountain as a breakthrough gay romance in mainstream cinema; it's certainly notable in that it's a movie featuring man-on-man action that my dad would love (if I could convince him to see it). Along with other films like Capote and Transamerica, the Oscar season has been dominated by talk about greater acceptance of gay characters in film; however, long before Jack and Ennis, a number of breakthrough films set the stage for the current cinematic climate. There has always been and probably been a lot of dreck in gay-themed cinema - Go Fish, anyone? But the films listed below all transcend the label of Queer Cinema, telling their stories with sensitivity and compassion.
1. My Own Private Idaho - Mike (River Phoenix)'s simple declaration of love to Scott (Keanu Reeves) by a campfire - "I really want to kiss you, man" - is one of the most achingly romantic moments in cinema, gay or otherwise.
2. My Beautiful Laundrette - Stephen Frears juggles racism and class divides in Thatcher-era England along with the sweet love story between laundromat manager Omar (Gordon Warnecke) and the flamboyant Johnny (Daniel Day Lewis). Day Lewis' performance, still his best, is the very definition of brave, and the film is unapologetically funny and sweet.
3. The Crying Game - If the twist were just a twist, than this would have been forgotten soon after the hype settled down. What makes The Crying Game a great film is the way that director Neil Jordan guides Fergus (Stephen Rea) and Dil (Jaye Davidson) to a believable and heartfelt resolution; the final scene is a lovely and understated grace note.
4. Heavenly Creatures - While it's debatable whether Pauline Rieper (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet Hume (Kate Winslet) were gay, they were clearly passionately in love, and Peter Jackson's best film is swept up in the mad, swooning frenzy of their relationship. The tragedy of their crime is compounded by the notion that in a more permissive society, everything would have been different.
5. Hedwig and the Angry Inch - John Cameron Mitchell uses Aristotle's speech in Plato's Symposium as the heart of a sexy, sad, and just plain kickass rock epic - transplanted brilliantly from the stage - about a singer stuck between genders and borders. Better than Rent in every possible way.
6. The Beaver Trilogy - What begins as a weird story about a lanky midwestern kid who loves Olivia Newton-John becomes an insightful study of one sexually ambivalent kid (shown in documentary and played by both Sean Penn and Crispin Glover) who expresses something through drag that he could never otherwise put into words.
7. Naked Lunch - A bitter pill compared to most on this list, Cronenberg's interpretation of Burroughs' book nails the author's tortured sexual ambivalence. Peter Weller is vastly underrated here; he communicates worlds about Bill Lee's self-perception with the smallest gesture.
8. Boys Don't Cry - I'm going to have to disagree with my friend Rory's summary of this film - "I'm a transvestite. Bang. Plop." - and suggest that Kimberly Pierce's debut film is more complicated than it looks. The film proceeds with a devastating air of inevitability to its brutal conclusion; few films have hammered the inhumanity of hate crimes home with greater clarity and truth. Plus, I don't care what anyone thinks: Hilary Swank and Chloe Sevigny's love scenes are jaw-droppingly sexy.
9. Waiting For Guffman - Corky St. Clair (Christopher Guest) is a fop, no doubt. But the brilliance of Guffman is that while we laugh, we are also forced to question why we laugh. Guest's deft touch results in a preening community theatre director that is sublimely ridiculous as a person, not as a stereotype. To think otherwise, you would have to be a bastard person.
10. Philadelphia - This is more of a personal choice. Yes, the courtroom structure is familiar, and it would have been nice had the relationship between Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) and Miguel Alvarez (Antonio Banderas) been explored in greater detail. But Jonathan Demme's subjective visual style compliments both Beckett and Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), whose gradual change from Beckett's homophobic lawyer to his friend never feels forced for a moment. The "La Mamma Morta" scene is one of the great moments in cinema; seeing Philadelphia at the age of nine, I concluded that acceptance is the only reasonable and human path. The verdict is out whether cinema can move the hearts and minds of the masses, but it certainly works for me.