Undoubtedly, the highlight of the year in LGBT film was the release of David France’s amazing documentary “How to Survive a Plague.”
France, a first-time director but an experienced journalist who has written extensively on the AIDS crisis, worked with a dedicated team to collect and review about 500 hours of video footage shot by AIDS activists during the early days of ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and TAG (the Treatment Action Group).
The result is an incredible film that combines the raw emotional energy of archival footage with the more detached analysis of contemporary interviews with survivors of the movement. The movie tells their story with great emotional and intellectual clarity and insight. It chronicles their successes and defeats, their miscalculations and their personal and professional struggles, but mainly the aching sense of lives lost to a vicious disease, an entrenched bureaucracy and an indifferent public.
The most memorable performance in an LGBT movie came from a very different film: Nicole Kidman in “The Paperboy,” helmed by openly gay director Lee Daniels. Following up on the success of “Precious,” Daniels turned to a steamy Southern tale of sex, murder and corruption in the Florida swamps of 1969. The bizarre film, which never quite jelled, featured a wild performance by Kidman as the vampy death row groupie Charlotte Bless.
Other highlights of the movie include, which may well be on the way to becoming a camp classic, include numerous scenes of Zac Efron in various states of undress and Matthew McConaughey as a muck-racking journalist with a secret of his own — he likes rough sex with black men.
Other highlights in LGBT film in 2012 include:
“Albert Nobbs,” which took star/producer Glenn Close several years to get to the screen. Close plays an Irish woman who lives as a man to support herself financially and protect herself from sexual violence. Her hermetic existence as the hotel clerk Albert Nobbs is burst open when she meets fellow cross-dresser Hubert Page (played with great gusto by Janet McTeer).
“Coriolanus” with Ralph Fiennes and Gerard Butler (“300”) in this excellent adaptation of Shakespeare’s queer look at militarism and misogyny. With remarkable fidelity to the Bard’s powerful language and themes, first-time director Fiennes moves the action to modern-day Kosovo and boldly highlights the homoerotic relationship between the Roman general Coriolanus and his Volscian foe Aufidius.
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” — India once again serves as a source of renewal for a group of stiff-upper-lipped English expatriates who retire there. The all-star cast includes Tom Wilkinson as Graham Dashwood who finally finds love and the courage to come out at the exotic hotel.
“Skyfall” brings a much-needed reboot to the Bond franchise, restoring several Bond motifs and a missing sense of humor and style. With the help of Judi Dench (who continues her excellent work as M) and Ben Whishaw (a new recruit as Q), Daniel Craig’s Bond battles Javier Bardem as Silva, a British spy gone bad. For gay audiences there’s a special thrill when Bond responds to Silva’s sexual advances with the dry retort, “What makes you think this is my first time?”
“Lincoln” is Steven Spielberg’s biopic of the 16th president and features a powerful script by award-winning gay author (and Golden Globe nominee) Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”). Kushner has the amazing ability to turn political rhetoric into compelling drama as he chronicles how Abraham Lincoln fights for the passage of the 13th Amendment, which outlaws slavery in the United States. The film includes stellar performances from Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader, as well as a delightful cameo by S. Epatha Merkerson. The film also includes tantalizing hints at Lincoln’s intimate relationships with other men, including an invitation to share an aide’s bed.
Local LGBT audiences also enjoyed the continued success of two excellent regional film festivals: D.C. Shorts and Reel Affirmations.
Under the leadership of openly gay local filmmaker Jon Gann (“Cyberslut”), the ninth D.C. Shorts festival included a variety of exciting films all under 20 minutes. A number of fascinating gay and lesbian shorts were sprinkled throughout the 16 cinematic showcases, including “The Maiden and the Princess,” a queer update on traditional fairy tales that was part of a family showcase; “Hatch,” a dark movie by Austrian director Christopher Kuschnig that looks at the lives of two couples on a wintry night in Vienna when a baby’s fate is decided; and “The Queen of My Dreams,” a delightful Bollywood take on a lesbian’s coming-out story.
To extend their outreach, Reel Affirmations began a series of monthly film showcases in addition to the 21st annual film festival in November. The festival opened with the double bill of “Kiss Me,” a deeply romantic Swedish lesbian coming out story, and “I Do,” an American film about a gay couple in New York grappling with international immigration issues. The festival closed with “Bear City 2: The Proposal,” a celebration of the bear community and romantic Provincetown weddings.
A highlight of the festival was “Yossi,” the sequel to the Israeli indie gay hit “Yossi and Jagger.” The film reunites director Eytan Fox with star Ohad Knoller who turns in a deeply emotional performance as a man finally breaking out of his emotional paralysis.