Last month, I posted AC reviews of many “gay movies.” In producing a list of “the best gay movies” from the previous millennium, I confessed that I’m not sure what a “gay movie” is. It seems that it should be a movie that sleeps with other movies, but then all movies are “gay movies.” In considering movies from the most recently past decade, I decided to try to rank order movies focusing on gay relationships. This eliminated some very good movies with central gay characters and one about a same-sex sexual/love relationship between men who did not represent “gay.” Brokeback Mountain, 2005, the “gay cowboy” movie that is not about gay men and is not about cowboys. To pre-empt “What about ___?” questions and challenges, I’ll list in chronological order movies that have major gay characters but that primarily focus on their relationships with other gay males and/or on relationships of non-gay characters:
Before Night Falls (2000)
Drôle de Félix/Adventures of Felix (2000)
Krámpack/ Nico and Danny (2000)
Wonder Boys (2000)
Sordid Lives (2000)
Mysterious Skin (2004)
Grande école (2004)
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Côte d’Azur/Crustaces & Coquillages (2005)
Le temps qui reste/Time to Leave (2005)
That Man: Peter Berlin (2005)
Art School Confidential (2006)
The History Boys (2006)
That Man: Peter Berlin (2005)
Les Chansons d’Amour (Love Songs) (2007)
Les témoins/The Witnesses (2007)
A Single Man (2009)
I’ve also excluded documentaries, the most germane of which is “Chris and Don: A Love Story” (2007), about a long-lasting relationship the ending of which was imagined by Christopher Isherwood in A Single Man, an outstanding recent (2009) movie about George, an aging gay man (played by Colin Farrell) whose younger lover (played by Matthew Goode) has died. George wards off ardent advances by characters played by Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, and Jon Kortajarena, though its message is “Carpe diem!”
And if there are outstanding movies about lesbian relationships made so far during this millennium I’ve missed them. (I tossed off an unannotated list for the previous millennium’s here).
Onto my list of favorites (aka “the best”):
(1) “Yossi & Jagger” (2002, directed by Eytan Fox is a low budget 2002 tragic romance about two Israeli soldiers – Yehuda Levi’s “Jagger” (slinky, as in Mick) and his less flamboyant platoon commander and lover, Ohad Knoller’s Yossi – at a snowy outpost on the border of Lebanon. Fox also made a tragic movie about an Israeli Jew(Ohad Knoller again) and Arab (Palestinian, played by Yousef ‘Joe’ Sweid) in Tel Aviv, “The Bubble” (“Ha-Buah”, 2006) that would be on my list if I did not restrict it to a single entry for any one director.
(2) “Latter Days” (2003, written and directed by C. Jay Cox), like “Bubble” and “Milk” begins as a comedy and turns quite dark. On a bet, on a lark, gay Angeleño named Christian (Wes Ramsey) seduces Mormon missionary to LA, Aaron Davis (Steve Sand Voss). Mary Kay Place plays Aaron’s mother who will stop at nothing to “deprogram” her son from same-sex love (and/or reprogram him to Mormon natalist dogma) and Joseph Gordon Levitt (who played a gay hustler in “Mysterious Skin”) turns up as the most intolerant of Aaron’s LA missionary team. Christian is shown as initially flippant playing with fire, and Aaron is the one who gets burned (or waterboarded).
(3) “Milk” (2008, directed by Gus Van Sant from an Oscar-winning screenplay by Dustin Lance Black) is more about the (San Francisco gay liberation generation) community mobilizing politics .of demanding rights rather than pleading for sympathy more than about the gay relationships of Harvey Milk. I thought that Sean Penn threw himself into the part, but was more effeminate than Harvey Milk was. I liked James Franco’s brash Scott Smith (the man with whom Milk moved to San Francisco, one who tired of being a political wife). The narcissistic, self-important Cleve Jones overly influenced the perspective. Emile Hirsch was, nonetheless, amusing, as was Alison Pill as the pre-post-lesbian Anne Kronenberg. Astonishingly MIA altogether was Milk’s apostolic successor, who accomplished much more legislatively than Milk did, or Britt’s successor Carole Migden. The movie is Cleve Jone’s self-aggrandizing view, but given that is moving and often entertaining. Diego Luna’s role as Jack Lira, Milk’s last lover, is truncated, but along with Franco’s Smith there seems enough about gay relationships for “Milk” to qualify for inclusion on my list.
(4) Mike Nichols’s two-part 2003 TV mini-series )of Tony Kushner’s AIDS fantasia “Angels in America” showcased Al Pacino as the arrogant and otherwise vile Roy Cohn denying that he is gay and Jeffrey Wright as the black gay nurse, Meryl Streep as Ethel Rosenberg, along with a closeted gay Republican Mormon, the titular angel (Emma Thompson), and ye old brave PWA (Justin Kirk) whose lover fails to rise to the occasion, instead hooking up with the Republican Mormon. It is “about” responses to the AIDS epidemic on the US East Coast (though the first production, which I saw, was in San Francisco’s Eureka Theater). Though there are closeted gay characters and open ones, that distinction does not separate the heroes from the unheroic.
(5) “Boy Culture” (2006, directed by Q. Allan Brocka [Eating Out] from Matthew Rettemund’s edgy novel) is one of the best American films about young urban gay men (plus, as a bonus, the intersection with intact urban black families supportive of gay sons). Though having comic moments and comedy of the absurd, the movie is a melodrama about a trio of gay roommates, one of whom is a hustler (Derek Magyar), one of whom is black (Darryl Stephens, of whom I have been fan since his Berkeley undergraduate days on stage in the Bay Area and onto the small screen and then large as the title character in “Noah’s Arc”)
(6) “Ya ben” (Fleeing by Night, 2000, directed by directed by Hsu Li-Kong and Yin Chi) is a heartbreaking tale of a well-off young man who has returned to China, Hsu Shaodong (played by Huang Lei, the younger of the blind musicians in another Chinese heartbreaking movie, “Life on a String”) failing to rise to the occasion and thereby losing the love of the Chinese opera star Lin Chung (Yin Chao-Te), who is performing at Huang Li’s father’s theater and being kept as a male moll by a local gangster.
(7) “The Hours” (2002, directed by Stephen Daldry, whose 2000 “Billy Elliot” featured a major gay character) is about Mrs. Dalloway, isn’t it? And its primarily lesbian author Viriginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman in an Oscar-winning performance), and later readers of the book including a gay Ed Harris, a lesbian Meryl Streep, and Juliane Moore (as the Harris character’s mother) running away from stifling 1950s suburban housewife life. I was convinced by Ed Harris, an actor I generally admire, but I thought the film (adapted by David Hare from Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel) captured much of the complex interconnections of the book and had a perhaps too noticeable soundtrack by Philip Glass that I like on its own. And the camerawork is rather static, but what a cast!
(8) “Plata quemada” (Burnt Money, 2000, directed by Marcelo Piñeyro) is a delirious romance between two Argentine bank robbers, “Los Mellizos” (Eduardo Noriega and Leonardo Sbaraglia), who flee to Uruagay. It is as or more romantic than “Yossi and Jagger” and has a lot more gunfire (but no landmines…)
(9) “Un amour à taire” (A Love to Hide), Christian Faure’s 2005 TV movie, has a female Jewish protagonist (Louise Monot), who is first sheltered by a transgendered male Aryan, then by a young gay Aryan couple, would be a choice of many. I prefer “Juste une question d’amour” (Just a Question of Love) (2000) also by Faure Laurent (Cyrille Thouvenin), a single, closeted gay guy with a loving, but intolerant family and a hot botanist (with a greenhouse) played by Stéphan Guérin-Tilli. (Neither Cédric nor Laurent has any connection to politicized gay identity: the message they articulate is “I love him and he loves me and we are going to be together.”)
(10) Although, along with many other gay viewers, I like the rural romance of writer-director Thomas Bezucha’s small-budget small, too-good-to-betrue Montana town in “Big Eden” (2000) and Colin Farrell’s complaisant (too-good-to-be-true?) character in Michael Cunningham’s 2004 adaptation of his novel A Home at the End of the World and Sissy Spacek’s sympathetic mother of Dallas Roberts’s character, my choice for the last two slot came down to “Touch of Pink” (2004, written and directed by Ian Iqbal Rashid) and “Cachorro” (Bear Cub, 2004, written and directed by Miguel Albaladejo). Both have large casts of friends and family of the gay leads. The bear Pedro, played by José Luis García Pérez in “Cachorro” would win if the list were movies with leading gay characters rather than movies focusing on gay relationships. Pedro has a straight and belligerent nephew Bernardo (David Castillo) thrust into his care, disrupting his urban gay life. Offsetting his natal family bursting in (from Canada) on his domestic bliss with Giles (Kristen Holden-Ried) bearing a female Hindu bride for him, Alim in “Touch of Pink” has the spirit of Cary Grant (embodied by Kyle MacLachlan) offering him advice (see “Topper”). “Modern” (western?) commitment to transparency leads to a multi-part series of showdowns at Casa Loma (a gaudy Toronto castle that is rented out for weddings). There are three major ones, accompanied by considerable humor at incomprehension, mis-comprehension, and unwillingness to believe the person is saying what he or she is saying, followed by a double happiness (or at least indications of happy endings for two couples emerging from furtiveness).
Other contenders (continuing in descending order):
Bone Island (2003)
Cowboys & Angels (2003)
Poster Boy (2004)
Breakfast on Pluto (2005)
11 Men Out (2005)
Presque rien/Come Undone (2000)
More Lukas’ Stories (2002)
Red Dirt (2000)
Gone, but not forgotten (2003)
Food of Love (2002)
Save Me (2007)
Naked Boys Singing (2007)
Were the World Mine (2008)