Monday, December 21, 2009

Screen Queens: Best of the Gay Aughts

MattCanada here with a bit of an overview and Best-Of Gay films for the last decade.

Gay cinema over the last ten years has been intrinsically tied to both the political gains made by gay activists and the intense battles surrounding everything from the worldwide fight for gay marriage to nationally specific issues like America's DADT and DOMA, and Britain's repeal of Section 28. The relationship between the political and the cinematic is always most pronounced in the medium's relationship to minority groups and their texts.

The Aughts have seen gay-rights become the most visible"social values" issue in America, and this has been reflected in a number of high profile American films dealing frankly, sexually, and politically with what it means to be gay in America. Milk, Far From Heaven, and Mysterious Skin employ gay filmmaking traditions, like those of Affirmation Documentaries (Richard Dyer's term), Sirkian melodrama, and New Queer Cinema, to examine the complexity of gay male American history.

Brokeback Mountain
, in terms of cultural and critical impact, deserves to be in a category all its own. It is the defining film in the gay canon, one that has become The Gay Film to which everything else, before or since, is compared. Its mainstream success can be partially attributed to its de-gaying through the clever marketing technique of calling it a 'universal love story'. However, without a doubt, it lost the Oscar as a result of latent homophobia within what is generally perceived to be the liberal media elite. All in all, the visibility of male homosexuality in American cinema over the last decade seemed at an all time high.

a small sampling of important gay auteurs in the Aughts:
Eytan Fox, François Ozon, "Joe" Weerasethakul and Todd Haynes

Internationally gay film has continued to flourish, especially with the arthouse approved gay auteurs, the most notable being Pedro Almodóvar, Francois Ozon, Eytan Fox, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Brillante Mendoza. For me personally the biggest joy has been watching Quebec, or maybe more appropriately Montreal, become a mecca for intelligent, entertaining, and daring gay filmmaking, especially Jean-Marc Vallee's C.R.A.Z.Y, and Xavier Dolan's I Killed My Mother. English language Canada has not had the same high-profile successes, but has continued to see good work from the always intelligent and challenging John Greyson, as well as provocateur Bruce LaBruce.

Documentary cinema has continued to be an area where a multitude of disparate perspectives on gay life can be presented, and Paragraph 175, Tarnation (mentioned in an amazing post here the other day), Camp Out, Small Town Gay Bar, A Jihad For Love, For the Bible Told Me So, and Outrage have been a few of the breakout examples.

Finally, Latter Days and Shelter (previous post) have been two noteworthy gay film fest hits that became big successes within the gay community this decade. Their rankings at number 3 and 2 respectively on's 50 Best Gay Films Ever speaks to this popularity, and while I can respect the latter, I think the former is just about the worst gay film I have ever seen.

So, here are my personal top 10 of the last decade:

10 Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom
Gay cinema is dominated by white men, white stars, and white standards of beauty. That is why it is great to see a film dealing with issues surrounding African-American gays and their different positioning within straight hegemony and dominant (re: white) gay culture. Hopefully this film's success will spur gay cinema to be more inclusive and ethnically pluralistic. This film is a lot of fun and provides a great showcase for a very talented cast.

09 Before Night Falls
Javier Bardem plays gay! Johnny Depp does drag!

08 I Killed My Mother
Innovative debut by Montrealer Xavier Dolan who at 18 astoundingly wrote, produced, starred in, and directed this film. There are flaws, but everything is worth it for the film's stylistic flourishes and the lead performance by Anne Dorval. (full review)

07 For the Bible Tells Me So
One of the best documentaries of the decade, and crucial viewing for anyone who wants to understand the intersection of Christianity and homosexuality.

06 Mysterious Skin
Gregg Araki is the most original and iconoclastic gay director of the last twenty years, and Mysterious Skin is his most accomplished work: nuanced, daring, and heartbreaking.

05 C.R.A.Z.Y.
The best growing up and coming out story I can remember, and the greatest use of a David Bowie song ever. Everything about this film works, and the soundtrack is incredible.

04 The films of Pedro Almodóvar
My favorite director made four films this decade and although only Bad Education (2004) was specifically gay, everything he does affects and is affected by gay cinema. I think he is now officially the most important gay auteur of all time.

03 Brokeback Mountain
Beautiful, iconic, and flawless.

02 Far From Heaven
Todd Haynes revisionist homage to the films of Douglas Sirk is masterful filmmaking, and it might even surpass the lofty heights of All That Heaven Allows (1955). Julianne Moore's lead performance is the best of the decade. How she lost the Oscar is beyond me.

01 Milk
I don't know where to begin... so much to love. The cast is magnificent, the editing is peerless, and no film dealt so explicitly with the issues facing gay people worldwide as this did. A perfectly made political film that uses the traits and tropes of the biopic to interrogate homophobia and cogently argue the needs and desires of the gay community.

Hope everyone enjoyed this list. What are your personal picks for best (and worst) gay films of the last decade?


Henry said...

Wow. Brokeback below Milk? Interesting. I would have reversed their positions. I thought Brokeback was more revolutionary and more impactful to gay cinema than Milk. Milk, I think, wouldn't have been possible if Brokeback hadn't been released three years before.

(And I think it's a better movie)

Anonymous said...

Last week a brazilian director released his latest movie here in Brazil called "Do começo ao fim". It´s a gay love story between two brothers. The interesting thing it that in the movie there is no conflit on the subject matter, but it´s more about freedom to choose whatever you want for your life. Check the trailer on youtube. I think you will like it. The actors are handsome and the movie is beautiful.


Henry -- yeah i don't get that either. BUT i also can't endorse Noah's Arc much as I agree that gay cinema is way too whitebread. I'll admit that i haven't seen the movie but the series just embarrassed me with its amateur hour acting.

Matt - i love that you lumped all of Almodovar in together ;) i probably would've done the same thing in this particular list.

Unknown said...

Nathaniel, it seems that the brazilian movie that I have mentioned will be called "From beginning to end". It´s by Aluizio Abranches.

Unknown said...

the trailer has subtitles in English on tube.

Unknown said...

check this out:

This is the rehersal from the movie I told you about.

steve said...

no "Hedwig" ?????


another good one was "Plata Quemada" aka "Burnt Money" - a nice little Argentinian gay mobster film

and yah - "Mysterious Skin" is a great movie

Joseph said...

Some could argue Brokeback Mountain doesn't belong to "queer cinema" because none of the main film makers are homosexuals. But whatever..

Anonymous said...

Johnny said...


Toby said...

"However, without a doubt, it lost the Oscar as a result of latent homophobia within what is generally perceived to be the liberal media elite"

Bull. Shit.

Anonymous said...

Agreed except for the C.R.A.Z.Y thing

The movie is OK but its not great at all. The actor is cute but not that deep and the story is quite flat.

I prefer other gay movies. Excellent choices all the rest.

CanadaMatt said...

The truth is the top 3 movies are all incredible and without a doubt the most important gay films of aughts. I have a much more personal attachment to Milk, and I think it is a brilliantly consrtucted film on all fronts, but especially the integration of archival footage and photographs into the narrative so seamlessly. The editing is the best I think I have ever seen. Milk would not have been possible without Brokeback, true, but that does not mean it is a better film. To be honest though I love both these films, and Far From Heaven and their rankings are completely subjective. If it were my rankings of the most important gay films of the decade then Brokeback would have been number one.

@ NATHANIEL - I never watched the Noah's Arc series so I wasn't prejudiced against the movie.

MovieGuy said...

Anyone here see the French film "Un amour à taire" (A Love to Hide)? That was great gay cinema that I felt was one of the most intensely moving experiences I've ever had, despite being a made for TV movie.


Steve -- if i were making this list I'd have both of those on it. BURNT MONEY is fab. I don't know why people never talk about it.

and Hedwig is great, yeah.

joe burns said...

I love Milk and Far From Heaven. I wish Julianne had won Best Actress.

Paul Outlaw said...

Noah's Arc? Oh, hell no. Anything related to that series is on my worst of the decade list, especially the acting. Please consider Brother to Brother instead, which features Anthony Mackie in one his first starring roles.

Henry said...

Pedro Almodovar is gay? I did not know this. Forces me to see his films in a much different light.

Interesting omission? Kissing Jessica Stein. Too mainstream? Not mainstream enough?

Rob T. said...

I think latent homophobia was only part of the reason Brokeback Mountain lost the "best picture" Oscar. In many ways it's one of a long line of Oscar-bait "prestige pictures"--high-minded, beautifully photographed literary adaptations or biopics such as Amadeus, Out of Africa, The Last Emperor, Dances with Wolves and The English Patient--that still get nominated for Oscars but haven't been going to the top so often in recent years. In contrast, several recent "best picture" Oscar winners including Crash depend a lot more on canny editing and richly detailed visual and sonic textures than upon photogenic scenery or traditionally theatrical performing.

In short, while Brokeback Mountain was a much riskier film in terms of content, Crash was more formally daring. Both films won three Oscars, splitting the picture/director awards and the writing categories. Perhaps significantly, Brokeback Mountain's third Oscar was for music while Crash's was for editing.

ferdi said...

great post!

Ok, Milk was very good but I would have not placed it so high.
1. Far From Heaven
2. Brokeback Mountain
3. A Single Man

And yes, all Almodovar. For Ever

Think by now Julianne Moore is the female icon for queer audience of the decade. Her performance in FarFromHeaven was sublime.

Glenn Dunks said...

I have no idea what Jumping the Broom is, but I've heard Brother to Brother is excellent and stars Anthony Mackie in a gay story, so there ya go. And I just noticed Paul Outlaw mentioned it to!

I wonder if films dealing with lesbianism were considered in this list? Monster and Kissing Jessica Stein (that one feeling quite refreshing in the world of gay cinema) as well as the stand up films of Margaret Cho.

My #1 would be Mysterious Skin fwiw.

Emma said...

Brokeback Mountain would be my number one, closely followed by Far from Heaven or Capote.

Janice said...

After 20 years or so of being out, I'm still having to adjust to the notion that everytime I read "gay" it means "gay male, lesbians not included, or might be included but only incidentally".

I admit I loved C.R.A.Z.Y. however.

Corey said...

Nat - I freakin' LOVE Burnt Money!

Deborah said...

Yeah, I'm surprised at the ommission of Jessica Stein, which is a brilliant movie, and wouldn't it be nice to have a list inclusive of lesbians and bisexuals?

In terms of documentaries, okay I admit I haven't seen For the Bible Tells Me So, but no documentary has ever gotten under my skin as much as Trembling Before G-d; I swear I spend my life recommending that one!

No Hedwig AND no Shortbus? Do you hate James Cameron Mitchell?


@Janice and Deborah -- well it is his personal list. Plus, I think there is an argument to be made that this decade wasn't so great with lesbian films. I mean in the 90s the lesbian films owned the gay male ones. But this decade not so much.

Corey -- that makes a few of us.

Kurtis O said...

I would have definitely put 'Shortbus' on this list, even though it isn't specifically gay.

Kurtis O said...

Oh, and I forgot about 'Brother to Brother' -- that was surprisingly good. I liked that not only was it a black story, but involved an interracial romance.

And, sorry, Henry, but this just made me laugh out loud: "Pedro Almodovar is gay? I did not know this. Forces me to see his films in a much different light."

Unknown said...

I remember that year when Nicole Kidman won Best Actress. Julianne Moore won the critics' groups, Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellwegger wins Golden Globes; Renee wins SAG, Nicole wins the Oscar, despite all the momentum on Renee's side ( even recently, Nicole mentioned that Renee shouldve won that year)

Renee's performance was fun, but wasn't one of my favorites (Catherine stole the show), I thought Julianne Moore gave a great performance, but my clear favorite was still Nicole. But now I really don't understand why I thought that way for she only had one standout scene- a great one at that too at the train station, but the rest of the film, it was just all internal emotion. I would give it to Julianne Moore if I could just go back. In fact, this would be my Best Actress winners, actually the top 3 o each year of the aughts, some of my top 3 werent even nominated.


1- Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich
2- Laura Linney, You Can Count On Me
3- Ellen Burstyn, Requiem For A Dream

actual winner: Julia Roberts


1- Nicole Kidman, The Others
2-Halle Berry, Monster's Ball
3- Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge

actual winner: Halle Berry


1- Julianne Moore, Far From Heaven
2- Diane Lane, Unfaithful
3- Nicole Kidman, The Hours

actual winner: Nicole Kidman


1- Naomi Watts, 21 Grams
2- Charlize Theron, Monster
3- Diane Keaton, Something's Gotta Give

actual winner: Charlize Theron


1-Annette Benning, Being Julia
2-Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine
3- Imelda Stauton, Vera Drake

actual winner: Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

2005: weakest year

1- Charlize Theron, North Country
2- Felicity Huffman, Transamerica
3- Reese Witherspoon, Walk The Line

actual winner: Reese Witherspoon

2006:best year for actresses

1- Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
2- Helen Mirren, The Queen
3- Penelope Cruz, Volver

actual winner: Helen Mirren


1- Marion Cottiliard, La Vie En rose
2- Julie Christie, Away from her
3- Ellen Paige, Juno

actual winner: Marion Cottiliard

2008:another great year

1- Kristen Scott Thomas, I've Loved you so long
2- Kate Winslet, The Reader
3- Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Melissa Leo, Frozen River

& great performances from Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie, Meryl Streep

actual winner: Kate Winslet

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that so many people mentioned Kissing Jessica Stein. Apart from being a general average film, I really disliked the message of the movie - while we all love the sexuality is fluid message I hate it when the lead character in a film discovers gay love but ultimately turns back straight at the end (a la Bedrooms and Hallways).

Brokeback Mountain and Milk were amazing films and C.R.A.Z.Y is pretty much up there as the best coming out film I've seen.

Otherwise all I have to say is that no one mentioned Shelter or Latter Days!

Edward L. said...

I really love Barbet Schroeder's Our Lady of the Assassins. A great (and underrated) movie with a really touching and sweet gay romance at its centre.

Peggy Sue said...

1. Brokeback
2. Milk
3. Far from Heaven

Plata quemada IS hot! I would probably add a french movie called "Presque rien" which is quite devastating. And yes, Almodóvar forever!!!


edward l -- i couldn't get into that one but i'll admit that i didn't try that hard. I turned it off fairly quickly. Maybe it was the production values?

Anonymous said...

Yossi and Jagger!