It was a good year for LGBT film in 2013 — which means plenty of DVD options for cold winter nights at home.
The most fabulous movie of the year was clearly Pedro Almodóvar’s “I’m So Excited.” This superb farce by a master filmmaker at the peak of his powers is staged largely within the confines of a malfunctioning airplane. While the pilots try to find a place to land, the three male flight attendants drug the coach passengers and perform elaborate musical routines to distract the first class passengers, who include a virgin with psychic powers, a notorious dominatrix (played by Almodóvar regular Cecilia Roth), a shady businessman, a pair of newlyweds and a famous actor. While maintaining a delightfully campy tone, Almodóvar manages to make some interesting observations about sexual identity, death, ethics and morality.
Camp was also an essential element of a more mainstream offering: “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” Wonderful over-the-top performances by Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman and Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket skillfully guide the audience through the darkening political landscape of the dystopian Panem.
Real-life stories served as the inspiration for several notable LGBT movies of 2013. Helmed by openly gay director Lee Daniels, “The Butler” chronicled the emergence of the civil rights movement through the eyes of White House butler Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker). “The Dallas Buyers Club” told the story of Ron Woodroof, a homophobic straight man who is diagnosed with AIDS. With the help of Rayon, a transsexual, he fights the medical establishment by smuggling drugs into the county. HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra” recounts the tempestuous relationship between famous pianist Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his younger lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), whom he literally tries to remake in his own image.
HBO also presented “Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ to Tell You,” a documentary about the groundbreaking African-American stand-up comedian. Director Whoopi Goldberg details not only Mabley’s onstage life as a trailblazing performer who challenged racial and gender barriers and who was the highest paid performer at the legendary Apollo Theatre, but also her offstage life as a lesbian who was teasingly called “Mr. Moms.”
Another outstanding documentary was “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,” written and directed by filmmaker Alex Gibney, who combines archival footage with incisive interviews to tell the intertwined stories of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Private Bradley Manning (now known as Chelsea Manning).
Directed by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the documentary “Bridegroom” tells the emotional story of Shane Bitney Crone and Tom Bridegroom. Their plans to marry are crushed by Bridegroom’s untimely death. Crone’s grief is exacerbated when his partner’s family bars him from the funeral. A year after Bridegroom’s accidental death, Crone made a video called “It Could Happen To You.” The video became a viral sensation on YouTube and Facebook and inspired Bloodworth-Thomason to make this moving documentary about the importance of marriage equality.
Although billed as a murder mystery, “Kill Your Darlings” is really a coming-of-age story about Beat poet Alan Ginsberg (played by Daniel Radcliffe). The movie recreates the meeting of Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs and the tortured relationship between their friend Lucien Carr and David Kammerer (an excellent Michael C. Hall).
Lesbian director Kimberly Peirce took an unexpected turn after winning acclaim for “Boys Don’t Cry.” Working with openly gay screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who adapted Lawrence D. Cohen’s script for the famous 1976 Brian De Palma film of the Stephen King novel), Peirce tried to put a contemporary feminist spin on the classic horror tale “Carrie.” While Peirce never manages to fully put her personal stamp on the material, her version is still quite terrifying. She puts a stronger focus on the tangled relationship between fundamentalist Margaret White (an unnerving performance from Julianne Moore) and her teenage daughter Carrie (the tremendous Chloë Grace Moretz) and takes a fresh look at spoiled rich girl Chris (Portia Doubleday). Peirce also explores Carrie’s fear and delight at researching and refining her new-found telekinetic powers, (and the careful orchestration of her revenge at prom) and the dehumanizing impact of technology.
“Blue is the Warmest Colour” was the surprise hit of the Cannes Film Festival. In an unprecedented move, the jury awarded the prestigious Palme d’Or not only to director Abdellatif Kechiche but to lead performers Léa Seydoux (Emma) and Adèle Exarchopoulos (Adèle). Inspired by both the contemporary graphic novel of the same name by Julie Maroh and a sprawling 18th century novel by Pierre de Marivaux, the movie tracks the rise and fall of the passionate relationship of teenage schoolgirl Adèle and blue-haired art student Emma. The movie was controversial for explicit sex scenes between the two women, a controversy that was mirrored in the movie’s discussions of how male artists have depicted female nudes throughout the ages.
Finally, one of the queerest movies of the year came from straight director Woody Allen. Inspired by the Bernie Madoff story, “Blue Jasmine” is Allen’s heartfelt homage to Tennessee William’s “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Jasmine French (the superb Cate Blanchett) is a New York socialite who loses everything when her investment banker husband Hal is jailed for fraud. She flees to San Francisco to live with her estranged sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine tangles with Sally’s ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), who lost his life savings in one of Hal’s schemes, and Sally’s current boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), resists the advances of her lecherous boss (Michael Stuhlbarg) and is wooed by the suave but naïve diplomat Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard).
The movie moves back and forth between Jasmine’s memories of her Park Avenue life with Hal and her attempts to start over again in San Francisco, which are derailed by the potent combination of guilt, anger, denial, vodka and Xanax. Blanchett, who won raves for her recent stage performance as Blanche DuBois in “Streetcar,” offers a stunning performance as a forlorn figure who is both exasperating and seductive as she descends into madness.