Films with LGBT themes or those with likely interest to gays came out this year in a flood tide.
This profusion came on the heels of a banner year in 2009, led by such A-list hits as “A Single Man,” gay first-time director Tom Ford’s stunning adaptation of the slender novel by gay author Christopher Isherwood.
But since “A Single Man” went into wide release only in 2010 (it came out last December simply to qualify for Oscar noms), it really qualifies as a film to be mentioned here. It stars Colin Firth — now also lionized for a likely Oscar win for 2010 as Best Actor for his role as King George VI in what may in fact be this year’s best film, “The King’s Speech.” But this earlier film traces one day in the life of a middle-aged suicidal man George Falconer, despondent over the death of his long-time lover Jim in an auto accident eight months earlier.
Fashion designer Tom Ford himself financed his first film as a director, on a modest $7 million budget, but he has produced a work that is luminous to see, of heart-breaking beauty on the screen, and with an ending both unexpected and perfect. It won the award for outstanding film in wide release at the GLAAD Media Awards this January. This is a must-see film, now available on DVD.
Julianne Moore, who co-starred in “A Single Man,” also co-stars in “The Kids Are All Right,” a hit comedy-drama, helmed by out lesbian director Lisa Cholodenko who together with Stuart Blumberg wrote the screenplay. All three are nominated for Golden Globes this year, with the winners to be announced on Jan. 16: Moore for Best Actress, as is the film itself for Best Picture and Best Screenplay.
One of the Sundance 2010 breakout hits, it won a large audience in general release this summer with a story featuring Moore as Jules, the housewifey-half of a long-time lesbian couple with Annette Bening as the doctor-breadwinner Nic. Though it’s never made clear if they are actually married, Jules refers to herself as “married.” And they each have given birth to a child — now teenagers — using the same anonymous sperm donor. The kids call him their “donor dad” and when they track him down, he turns up in the not-so-happy home of Nic and Jules in the person of bohemian motorcyclist Paul, played wonderfully well by Mark Ruffalo, also rightly nominated for a Golden Globe, as Best Supporting Actor.
The film has already won a raft of New York Film Critics awards and looks like a strong Oscar contender. It was released on DVD and Blu-ray last month.
After years of distribution obstacles, “I Love You, Phillip Morris” finally hit screens. Deemed “too gay” by some potential backers, it finds big-name actors Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor locking lips and much more in this over-the-top but real-life story of true love launched inside a prison cell.
Carrey with rubber-faced and hyper-drive glee plays Steven Jay Russell, a seemingly happily married Christian-right cop who switched sides to become a self-described “gay, gay, gay” con artist, who meets sweetly dim, self-described “blond, blue-eyed and queer” Phillip Morris (McGregor) in the Big House, and after a brief prison courtship Phillip tells him, “enough romance, let’s fuck.” And they do. And then Steven escapes from prison four times and runs through multiple impersonations and grand cons to be reunited with Phillip.
Also launched at Sundance but then delayed for release due to various legal battles as well as uncertainty over how to market such a candid depiction of same-sex sex, this was finally released earlier this month, but although not yet in wide distribution, to the surprise of many it has actually been posting sizable grosses. Though not without its flaws, it should be seen for sure, especially for the knock-it-out-of-the-park performance of Carrey and the more-subdued-yet-equally effective screen presence of McGregor.
The ubiquitous actor James Franco — already nominated for a Golden Globe Best Actor nod this year for “127 Hours” and an almost certain Oscar nominee for that role — plays gay one more time in “Howl.” After playing the slain San Francisco politician’s lover in “Milk,” this time Franco stars as gay poet Allen Ginsberg in an “indie” biopic by gay writer-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman about the author of the Beat anthem “Howl” and the 1957 trial to contest its publication as obscene.
With a Golden Globe nom as Best Musical, the uber-garish “Burlesque” stars ultra-diva Cher and budding-diva Christina Aguilera and was written and directed by openly gay Steve Antin, once David Geffen’s boyfriend. So of course it’s gay catnip on celluloid. Aguilera plays Ali, small-town girl with big voice, who comes to an L.A. strip club, has a G-rated romance with a “metrosexual” club bartender hottie played by real-life but straight hottie Cam Gigandet.
Cher co-stars (her first screen role since appearing as herself in 2003’s so-so “Stuck on You”) as former club dancer Tess, now struggling to keep the place open. Stanley Tucci plays the nightclub’s manager and Tess’s gay best friend, reprising his similar role with Meryl Streep from “The Devil Wears Prada.” Released during Thanksgiving week, it has earned mixed reviews but respectable crowds.
There are gay films galore released during 2010 but not marketed for mainstream audiences like fetish-themed gay romantic comedy “Bear City,” which was screened briefly in Washington earlier this year and is already out on DVD.
Young twink Tyler (a very attractive Joe Conti) finds other twinks to be turn-offs, and just as opposites are said to attract, he pines only for the hirsute and hefty. The beardless chub and fur-chaser soon discovers New York’s “bear scene” and is literally sucked in. Make no mistake, the film features hot daddies and is ripe with raunch with full-frontal sex scenes. It is also funny and reminds us that bodies comes in all shapes and sizes and so does desire.
A similar theme comes in a documentary “The Adonis Factor,” a film by Christopher Hines that focuses on the body-conscious world of gay men, where “lookism” is so often decisive and face-lifts and pec-implants become serious options to stay in the game. It comes with a price tag of course, and not merely financial, to pay for the dermatologists, plastic surgeons and bodybuilding steroids. The film is now available on DVD and follows up Hines’ 2009 feature “The Butch Factor” on what it means to be gay and a man today.
Finally, several other gay-indies also deserve attention. “Strapped” blends influences from David Lynch and gay director Gus Van Sant’s “My Own Private Idaho” as it follows a young hustler played by Ben Bonenfant through his successive one-night-stands into a dark night of the soul. It’s a puzzle piece as he becomes caught in a nightmare-labyrinth and it will keep you tense until the end when we begin to see through his many masks, only one of which is as “deep-throat Eddie.” See this one when it is released on DVD next month.
Also worth seeing on DVD is “All Boys,” — a Finnish documentary about the ugly underbelly of the Czech gay-porn industry by writer-director Markku Heikkinen, a gripping reality-film showing the highs and lows behind the sex-lives of the gay-for-pay pretty boys of Eastern Europe. One sad story is what happens to Ruda who becomes porn star Aaron Hawke and for three years also the personal property of porn producer Dan Komar but who ends up alcoholic and homeless. Seduced by their brief encounter with fame and possible fortune and fueled by Viagra, these youths soon discover how fleeting such porno-fame is when they end up spat out after aging out of their brief shelf life.