December 31, 2015 at 1:09 pm EDT | by Brian T. Carney
YEAR IN REVIEW 2015: film (Gay content up in banner year)
Xavier Dolan, gay news, Washington Blade

Writer and director Xavier Dolan on the set of ‘Mommy.’ (Photo courtesy Roadside Attractions)

Two-thousand-fifteen was a banner year for LGBT filmgoers. There were several outstanding indie and mainstream releases, great LGBT offerings at local festivals, the unveiling of several new screens and a few disasters to chuckle over.

As the dust begins to settle on a fabulous year in queer cinema, two movies clearly rise to the top. Directed by gay auteur Todd Haynes and starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, “Carol” tells the story of a lesbian couple battling homophobia in 1950’s New York. Directed by British filmmaker Tom Hooper and starring Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl” tells the story of courageous trans pioneer Lili Elbe, a European woman who underwent gender reassignment surgery in the 1930s.

LGBT film

Director Todd Haynes and star Cate Blanchett on the set of ‘Carol.’ (Photo courtesy the Weinstein Company)

Both movies feature excellent adapted screenplays (Phyllis Nagy and Lucinda Coxon respectively), sumptuous period design and lush soundtracks. Both movies include outstanding performances by strong supporting casts (Sarah Paulson in “Carol;” Amber Heard, Matthias Schoenaerts and out actor Ben Whishaw in “The Danish Girl”). And, both movies are already racking up serious awards and nominations, a wonderful breakthrough for LGBT films.

Several other outstanding movies, all dealing with trans issues, also deserve special attention. “From This Day Forward,” is a thoughtful and moving documentary by straight filmmaker Sharon Shattuck. Shattuck’s father came out as transgender when she was in high school. As Shattuck prepares for her own wedding, she examines how her parents’ supportive marriage has changed over time.

On the narrative front, “Boy Meets Girl,” written and directed by Eric Schaeffer, tells the uplifting story of a young trans woman learning to embrace her dreams. “Tangerine,” written and directed by Sean Baker (with Chris Bergoch), has gotten great reviews from both straight and gay critics and audiences. Baker deserves applause for handing a difficult dark comic tone with confidence and style, as well as for getting great performances out of his neophyte actors and using fascinating innovative camera techniques.

There were also several fine documentaries released in 2015. “Best of Enemies,” which remembers the gay-baiting debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. during the 1968 Republican Convention, has been short-listed for Oscar consideration as Best Documentary. There was also HBO’s “Back On Board: Greg Louganis,”  “Do I Sound Gay?” and “Tab Hunter Confidential,” as well as Draper Shreeve’s delightful “Queer City,” a rich portrait of contemporary LGBT life in New York.

2015 was also the year that finally introduced D.C. audiences to queer Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan. At age 26, the wunderkind from Quebec has already won several awards at Cannes and at other major film festivals around the world. “Mommy,” his first English-language film, featured explosive performances and his unusual use of a 1:1 (square) aspect ratio.

Sadly, there were a number of serious misfires as well. “Stonewall” and “Legend” turned fascinating historical incidents into cinematic messes. The failures of “Nasty Baby” and “The D Train” (which centers on the unhappily consummated bromance between James Marsden and Jack Black) hinted that hipsters lack the necessary self-awareness to make effective satire.

It was also a great year for D.C.’s film festivals. Filmfest D.C. made an unexpected return in April and is slated to be back in 2016. After an absence of several years, the weekend-long Reel Affirmations Film Festival made a triumphant return at the recently restored Tivoli Theatre, supplementing the excellent monthly offerings of RA XTRA.

LGBT film

Tom Hardy as gangster twins Reggie (gay) and Ronnie (straight) Kray in ‘Legend.’ (Photo courtesy Universal Pictures)

In June, AFI Docs, now under the leadership of openly gay Director Michael Lumpkin, celebrated a wide variety of documentary films, including several outstanding films on queer themes.  In addition to including LGBT shorts in almost every program, the very popular D.C. Shorts Festival, led by out filmmaker Jon Gann, also included a great evening dedicated to LGBT shorts this year. Now in its third year, the Middleburg (Virginia) Film Festival offered Washington filmgoers sneak peeks at several Oscar contenders and the chance to mingle with Hollywood luminaries such as Catherine Hardwicke and Lee Daniels, the openly gay director of “The Butler” and Fox’s “Empire.” Hopefully, the continued popularity of these festivals will encourage other local film festivals to screen more LGBT films.

D.C. indie filmgoers also enjoyed the addition of several new screens in 2015. In addition to operating the popular Bethesda Row Cinema and the E Street Cinema in downtown DC, the Landmark Cinema chain reopened the West End Cinema in Foggy Bottom and opened the Atlantic Plumbing Cinema in the U Street Corridor.

Two local Angelika Film Centers (the Pop Up in D.C.’s Union Market and the Mosaic in Fairfax, Va.) also supported a variety of indie filmmakers, as did the new ArcLight Cinema in Bethesda.

AFI Silver in downtown Silver Spring continued to be a reliable home for queer cinema. Their indie, world and mainstream screenings included several LGBT titles, and their various foreign showcases included such queer delights as the lesbian romances “Sand Dollars” and “The Summer of Sangaile.” The clever staff at AFI also included a special showing of “Tangerine” on Christmas Eve, they day on which the movie is set.

Finally, 2015 also offered a number of excellent mainstream films that featured strong, independent and quirky female leads. Charlize Theron was fierce as Imperator Furiosa, the disabled hero of the visually stunning “Mad Max: Fury Road;” she literally and figuratively left Tom Hardy (as Max) in the dust. In a nod to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Bryce Dallas Howard did everything Chris Pratt did in “Jurassic World,” but in a pair of serious heels.

Freeheld” told the moving, inspirational and cautionary real-life tale of Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree (Julianne More and Ellen Page), the lesbian couple who won a landmark decision against homophobic county commissioners in 2006.

Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Freeheld, gay news, Washington Blade

Julianne Moore and Ellen Page in ‘Freeheld.’ (Photo by Phil Caruso, courtesy Lion’s Gate)

There was also Amy Schumer (“Trainwreck”); Meryl Streep (“Ricki and the Flash”); Melissa McCarthy (“Spy”); Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore in Catherine Hardwicke’s transcendent “Miss You Already,” which also featured an outstanding performance by Jacqueline Bisset; and, of course, Lily Tomlin as an irascible lesbian in Paul Weitz’s pleasantly astringent “Grandma.”

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