Today, the supreme court showcased a rare moment of kickassery by ruling in favor of marriage equality for all of the fifty states in the union. Now gay and lesbian citizens have every legal right to subject themselves to the pleasures and miseries of matrimony, and that’s cause for some serious celebration. In honor of this historic and uplifting decision, here’s a handful of homosexual flicks you should check out. …Though, this being CHUD and all, don’t expect all of these films to be as joyous or life-affirming as today’s news.
I Love You, Phillip Morris (2009)
Love and insanity are frequent bedfellows. It’s a good thing that such craziness can lead to some sweet and funny moments, and that’s the case with I Love You, Phillip Morris. Based on the true story of con-man Steven Jay Russell, Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor give delightfully endearing performances as two fellow inmates who fall in love. In fact, Russell (Jim Carrey) is so in love with Phillip (Ewan McGregor) that he escapes from prison multiple times to be with him. Featuring a landmark performance by Carrey, this is an under-appreciated romantic comedy that deserves to be rediscovered.
Gods and Monsters (1998)
Ian McKellen has always been an outspoken advocate of marriage equality, and tapping him to play legendary director James Whale was a stroke of genius. Though the film’s depictions of Whale’s last days aren’t completely accurate (what biopic is?), the story of Whale’s life and his infatuation with his gardener (Brendan Fraser) is touching, horrific, and ultimately heartbreaking. A rare story about Hollywood that works as well as the films its subject created himself.
The Hours (2002)
Spanning three different generations of women, The Hours is mostly remembered for Nicole Kidman’s transformative performance as tortured novelist Virginia Woolf. As memorable as that is, I was always struck much harder by the other two stories. Julianne Moore’s unhappy 1950s housewife has one of the most tender and sad moments in film history when she reaches out to her female neighbor for a display of honest affection and comfort. Meryl Streep plays the close friend of an AIDS-stricken poet and author (a fantastic Ed Harris) who has to reconcile with his impending death. Though this seems like Oscar bait, The Hours is powerful and honest about our basic human need to be loved, no matter what our sexual preference might be.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Put aside all the jokes and the senseless outrage that this film conjured up back when it was released, and you are left with a story about the power real love can hold over someone’s life. Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger both embody the melancholy of unrequited love so perfectly, and if the ending scene doesn’t move you, then you’ve never loved as powerfully and lost as devastatingly as these two characters. An important film and a beautiful one thanks to the gorgeous direction of director Ang Lee.
But I’m A Cheerleader (1999)
When your debut film gets compared to the works of John Waters, that’s more than a reason for me to check it out. Director Jamie Babbit’s first feature about a young girl whose parents send her to a sexual rehabilitation camp to cure her of her lesbian interests is charming and hilarious in so many vivid ways. Though the horror of such camps is no laughing matter (they are real and they are awful), Babbit finds the humor and the heart in the scenario all while delivering a good old-fashioned teenage romance.
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Admittedly, the romantic element of David Lynch’s surreal Hollywood mystery isn’t the first thing most people think of when they bring up Mulholland Dr. (you know what most people think of), but at the center of this neo-noir is a positive and tender relationship between Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. Some dismissed this as pure eroticism, but the levels of truth about desire displayed in the varied characters the two actresses play is far more layered and goes beyond simple titillation. If you haven’t seen this one yet, you’re missing out.
Once derided for being a homophobic smear piece, William Friedkin’s undercover thriller has now been accepted as one of the best gay movies ever made. Al Pacino plays a cop who infiltrates the New York S&M and leather scene in order to flush out a serial killer who is targeting gay men. Incredibly controversial for its time, the film now stands as a watershed moment in gay cinema history. And hey, it’s a William Friedkin film. That as close as you can get to a stamp of guaranteed excellence.
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Based on the depressing true story of Brandon Teena, Kimberly Peirce’s outstanding debut is best known for then unknown actress Hilary Swank’s unbelievable performance. Swank lived as a man for a month to prepare for the role, and her dedication to portraying Teena is must-see stuff. The story itself is a tale as old as time (star-crossed lovers and whatnot), but by telling it through the perspective of a transgender individual, the audience is shown a tale of courage and prejudice in a brand new light. One of the best films of 1999 (and that’s saying something).
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Hey, Al Pacino’s back! This time, he’s on the other side of the law in Sidney Lumet’s classic bank heist drama. There’s lots to love about this movie (including the always amazing John Cazale), but what prevents this from being an atypical robbery flick is one of Pacino’s motivations for the money. His wife (Chris Sarandon) wants to get a sexual reassignment surgery in order to become a woman, and the phone call the two share is one of the highlights of the film. This may seem like a small piece of the film, but it colors the entire experience in an amazing relatable way. What wouldn’t we do for the one we love?
In the pursuit of fairness, we should acknowledge that not all films should portray gay and lesbian individuals as likable. Case in point: the disturbing story of Aileen Wuornos. Portrayed by a near-unrecognizable Charlize Theron, Wuornos’ multiple murders are all awful, but Theron makes Wuornos’ hatred so understandable that it’s hard not to sympathize with her. What makes this all even more understandable is her relationship with Selby Wall (an equally powerful Christina Ricci), the only person who has ever shown Wuornos kindness and true affection. Although their crimes are despicable, the motivations behind them become murky when viewed through the haze of genuine love. This one is essential viewing, though not for the faint of heart or those quick to judge.
Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
I had to end on the CHUD-iest recommendation. It’s certainly not beloved when compared to the rest of the franchise (especially its immediate sequel), but Nightmare on Elm Street 2 has got to be one of the most naively subversive pieces of gay horror ever put on the screen. With scenes like Freddy emerging from the bare chest of an effeminate young man (whilst in the bedroom of another hunky shirtless dude), Robert Shaye as the bartender of a leather bar, and Marshall Bell getting his bare ass whipped by wet towels, it’s impossible not to have a fun time with this in-the-closet crapfest.
There are plenty of other LGBT movies out there that I’m sure are worth checking out, but I haven’t seen them! You should tell me some good ones in the comments and on the forums. And don’t say Top Gun. I said good movies.
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