Saturday, 17 November 2012

Top 20 Films in Gay Cinema: #10-1

So welcome to the second half of the countdown for my top 20 films in gay cinema. For #20-11, I chose a range of films, including British classic 'Beautiful Thing' and recent indie hits 'Keep The Lights On' and 'The Kids Are All Right'. For my top ten, the choices become even more diverse, with a mixture of British lesbians, vibrating eggs and cowboy lovers vying for the top spot. Let's see which film made it to the number ten.

From #10-1;

10. My Summer of Love (2004)

This BAFTA-winning film features fantastic performances from Natalie Press and Paddy Considine but the real standout for me was the always incredible Emily Blunt, who captivated audiences in this indie drama long before she became a household name. The film is great for the way in which it explores issues of religion and class but for me, its chemistry between the two female leads that is truly mesmerising, cementing 'My Summer of Love' as one of the best British films of the past ten years. 

Favourite Moment: The scene where Press dances provocatively as Blunt plays the cello is full of sexual tension and that kiss at the end! WHOA!!!

9. The Celluloid Closet (1995) 

Based on the 1981 book of the same name, 'Celluloid Closet' is a documentary that takes a look back at how gay, lesbian and transgender characters have been portrayed by Hollywood over the years. It's a fascinating overview; from the girly sissies of the 40s right through to the more realistic homosexual characters of the 90s. The clips are brilliantly chosen and the narration from Lily Tomlin is gripping throughout. It's as if the Grand High Witch has become a film scholar and I love it!

Favourite Moment: My favourite clip has to be the classic musical number 'Anyone For Love?' from the Marilyn film 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' (1953). The scene features Jane Russell surrounded by the Olympic team, who are working out and doing all manner of erotic poses in just tiny swimming trunks. It's possibly the gayest thing that I've ever seen but what's remarkable about the whole thing is that the majority of audiences who saw the film upon its release would have had no idea about the homosexual subtext. Hilarious.   

8. A Single Man (2009)

Tom Ford's directorial debut is a masterclass in style. Every scene is like a piece of art and the 60s style fashion is stunning. What really resonates though is Colin Firth's depiction of George and how he's struggling to come to terms with life without his lover. I was also really surprised by Nicholas Hoult's appearance in the film, who captivates as the inappropriate student with his blond hair and charismatic smile. What's really great about 'A Single Man' though is that its such a great adaptation of the classic Isherwood novel, staying true to the tone and style of the original story.  

Favourite Moment: There are so many amazing scenes to choose from, mostly involving attractive young men, but the best moment in 'A Single Man' has to be the intimate dance scene between George and his old friend Charley, who is played by the always incredible Julianne Moore. Their fragile relationship has so much depth and what the characters don't say has more power than what is said.   

7. Shortbus (2006)

'Shortbus' is an indie film directed by John Cameron Mitchell that features an ensemble cast in New York City... having lots of sex. Ok, there's more to it than that but this one is certainly not for light Sunday afternoon viewing with the family. There are so many great characters in this film, from the lead Sofia Lin who has a hilarious run in with a vibrating egg to the sexually promiscuous pensioner who used to be mayor of the city. The film does a great job of balancing the spotlight between each of these characters, interlinking their various stories but the standout performance for me comes from the singer/songwriter Jay Brannan, who plays a sweet young guy called Ceth who gets caught up in a tricky three way relationship. The soundtrack is also fantastic, including a song from Mr Brannan himself called 'Soda Shop'. Click here to hear more from his acoustic style.

Favourite Moment: This one is hard to explain if you haven't seen 'Shortbus' but let's just say that the film offers up a hilarious reinterpretation of the US National Anthem during a scene shot in bed.

6. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Everyone knows this classic Ang Lee film about two cowboys who fall in love, but struggle to keep their relationship alive due to pressures from the outside world. It's a stunning film, featuring career best performances from both Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger while winning three of the main Oscars the year it came out. 'Brokeback Mountain' was groundbreaking upon its release but since its success, audiences have still been left waiting for another film of its kind to hit the mainstream. What made this film so special is how believeable the main relationship is, depicting homosexual love like any other kind of 'normal' love, albeit one fraught with more obstacles to overcome. I love this film so why isn't it in my top 5? The rest of my choices are more personal to me and meant more at certain points in my life but that is not to detract from the brilliance of 'Brokeback Mountain'. If you haven't seen it then watch it now!!!  

Favourite Moment: I won't spoil this incredible film for anyone who hasn't seen it but the best scene has to be right at the end. I can't say anymore except to say that Heath Ledger's acting is heartbreaking and he was robbed of an Oscar.

 5. Transamerica (2005)

I've heard of complaints from the transgender community about the depiction of changing gender in this film but for someone who had very little knowledge of what these changes entailed, I found 'Transamerica' an insightful and sensitive exploration of transgender issues. Felicity Huffman's portrayal of Bree, a man who has almost completed the transition into becoming a woman, is just mind blowing and I believe she was also robbed of her chance of winning an Oscar. At its heart, 'Transamerica' is a simple story of a parent trying to connect with their estranged child. Toby, who is played brilliantly by Kevin Zegers. Along the way, it becomes clear that Toby is also struggling with his own issues of identity and sexuality. For me, this is just a really enjoyable road movie that touches upon some heavier issues along the way in an engaging light. And Kevin Zegers is so hot!

Favourite Moment: Again, I cannot say too much without spoiling this movie except that my favourite scene has to be towards the end, where there is an incredibly awkward exchange between Toby and his father. Just tell him Bree! Geez!!!

 4. I Killed My Mother (2009)

Xavier Dolan is the only director who appears twice on this list and for good reason. While 'Heartbeats' is a fantastic film, Dolan has still not bettered his stunning debut, 'I Killed My Mother'. What can I say about this French Canadian, except that he is ridiculously talented beyond belief, writing, directing and starring in all of his own films before even reaching the age of 25! This semi-autobiographical film shows the declining relationship between the central character Hubert and his mother, played brilliantly by Anne Dorval. While at times Hubert can come across slightly brattish and unlikeable, the narrative grips and remains honest throughout and the direction is confident and assured. Now also bear in mind that Dolan was only 19 when he made this. This film is an incredible achievement and marks Dolan as a serious contender within, queer, world and indie cinema! 

Favourite Moment: For a perfect example of Dolan's innovative style, my favourite scene has to be when Hubert and his boyfriend start painting a wall together but get carried away and start to get it on. The music and imagery go perfectly together and the whole thing feels like an incredible music promo. Youtube 'I Killed My Mother paint scene' to see it if you're not offended by explicit material.

3. Mysterious Skin (2004)

I haven't seen this film for years but its always held a special place in my film-loving heart, despite it being quite hard to watch at points. Directed by Gregg Araki, 'Mysterious Skin' was a return to form for the director, who pioneered the 'New Queer Wave' of the early 90s but had then gradually declined in popularity. The story of two teenage boys who remain affected by abuse from their childhood is an extraordinarily powerful film that includes a stunning central performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Yes, I know he's incredibly famous and popular now but at the time of this films release, people only knew Levitt as the young kid from the TV comedy 'Third Rock From The Sun' (Loved that show by the way!). Here he proves himself as a young gay prostitute struggling to deal with this past. The rest of the cast is also great, including a surprisingly strong performance from Michelle Trachtenberg, who was always just the annoying little sister from 'Buffy' to me. What's also impressive about 'Mysterious Skin' is that it is such a great adaptation of Scott Heim's book, which is full of beautiful imagery and powerful insights into the teenage mindset. I cannot recommend either the film or the book enough. One of my favourites of all time.

Favourite Moment: There's a scene in the film where Levitt's character is abused by a client who takes things too far and while it's hard to call this moment a favourite, it is certainly one of the most heartbreaking and powerful moments I've ever watched in the cinema.

2. Tarnation (2003)

Produced by famed directors Gus Van Sant and John Cameron Mitchell, 'Tarnation' is a deeply personal documentary by first time fimmaker Jonathan Caouette about his childhood. What's remarkable about 'Tarnation' though is that the film is almost entirely comprised of old super 8 footage and VHS tapes. Caouette edited 'Tarnation together using free iMovie software on his computer and it's reported that the initial cost of the film was only $218.32. While of course more money was spent once the film began to be distributed, the initial low cost of 'Tarnation' showed filmmakers that with current technology, you no longer had to be a rich Hollywood director to create good films. But that alone does not make a good film. The reason I love 'Tarnation' ultimately comes down to its honesty. Cauoette bares all about his struggles to grow up as gay in small town America and it's deeply saddening to hear of his mothers mental illness, brought about by electroshock therapy that she should never have received. This film completely redefined for me what documentaries and cinema in general could be about and to this day, it's the only movie I have ever watched twice in a row, from beginning to end. This little seen film deserves to be far bigger than it is.  

Favourite Moment: For anyone who has seen 'Tarnation', the standout moment has to be a super 8 clip of an 11 year old Cauoette improvising a scene on his own as a battered housewife. His acting is extraordinary here, to the point where it shocks me that he has not received more acting work in his adult life.

1. C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005)

So here we are at number one. This choice may surprise people but remember that this is a personal list and not a definitive account of the best films in gay cinema. For me, the French-Canadian film 'Crazy' had to be at the number one spot, as its story of a young man struggling to come to terms with his sexuality just resonated with me in a really powerful way. I love the 60s and 70s setting and the main performances are fantastic. Particular standouts are the central character Zac (played by Marc-Andre Grondin) and his parents, who both come to terms with their child's sexuality in different ways. There are funny moments between Zac and his four brothers and there are also more serious scenes as revalations come to light. I'm not here to argue that 'Crazy' is a perfect film. Other films on this list may be better made and there are moments here which delve too far into spirituality and religion for my tastes but I caught this film at a certain moment in my life where it stuck with me and I'm still in love with it now, all these years later. I'd recommend anyone to see 'Crazy' but don't go into it expecting the best film you've ever seen. Just enjoy it and make up your own mind. 

Favourite Moment: I love the slightly 'Scorcese' opening but my favourite scene occurs slightly later in the film, where Zac smokes a joint in a car with his cousin and her boyfriend Paul. Zac and Paul share a 'shotgun' together, where their mouths come close to share the smoke of the joint and instantly, you can see Zac's infatuation ignite.

So there was my top 20 films in gay cinema. You may have read this list and thought, "But where the hell is 'Boys Don't Cry'? How could he have left off 'My Own Private Idaho'?" All I can say is that I apologise but remember that these are my personal favourites. I love those other films but these are the ones that really meant something to me. As well, there may also be some choices left off the list simply because I haven't seen them myself yet. So here's some gay themed films that I'm still dying to see.

Films that I'm still dying to see:

What films would you have chosen? If you've enjoyed any of my choices or disagree with some omissions, let me know by commenting and remember to like and share! And here's a link to the first half of the list if you missed it - #20-11. Thanks!


  1. quite an extensive list XD i think i prefer hedwig and the angry inch than shortbus when it come to john cameron mitchell, i havent seen tarnation yet. now have you watched weekend yet? i wonder if it will be on the top of your list :D
    PS: have you seen i don't want to go back alone? its a brazilian short you can easily find on youtube :D

    1. I still haven't seen Hedwig but it's on my list. I have seen Weekend now though and am slightly obsessed with it. One of the best LGBT/British films I've seen in years! Haven't watched the Brazilian short yet but will check it out soon.
      What would be on the top of your list, if you had to choose your favourite films in gay cinema?