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Knight at the Movies: The Year of the Gay Oscars
by Richard Knight, Jr.
2006-03-01

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Pictured Catherine Keener and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote. Heath and Jake in Brokeback Mountain.

I'm going to celebrate Oscar night, the gay man's equivalent of Christmas Eve, like millions of other folks—by hosting an Academy Awards party. This annual tradition will feature the usual stunning buffet, Oscar decor and gift bags courtesy of my partner as well as the expected ballot for our guests to predict their winners, my usual assortment of medium-to-difficult Oscar-related trivia and those imitation gold statuettes for our winner. Before the parties begin this year, however, there's a lot to celebrate.

After all, this is the year the Academy has gone gaga over gay-themed movies. Brokeback Mountain, Capote and Transamerica are heavily nominated and the most obvious of movies with either a GLBT theme or major character. The media's drowning in a sea of stories headlining the fact that this is the year of the gay Oscars. You can say that again—and there's a lot more to celebrate when one takes a closer look at the acting categories. It's probably not surprising to find that just about EVERYONE nominated this year has played a gay or bisexual character at some point in his or her film career. A quick perusal of this year's crop of acting nominees finds enough gay and lesbian characters to populate a good-sized Oscar party all their own. A random sampling ( that is far from comprehensive ) :

BEST ACTRESS

Judi Dench ( nominated for Mrs. Henderson Presents ) played a lesbian in The Shipping News, based on Annie Proulx's novel, as well as bisexual writer Iris Murdoch in Iris, both in 2001. Out lesbian writer Proulx also penned the short story Brokeback Mountain, the basis for that little cowboy movie you may have heard about.

Felicity Huffman ( nominated for Transamerica ) played a lesbian stage designer trying to get her banker girlfriend to come out of the closet in the short lived Showtime series Bedtime in 1996.

Keira Knightly ( nominated for Pride & Prejudice ) played real-life lesbian Domino Harvey earlier this year in Tony Scott's atrocious action misfire Domino, based on Harvey's life ( though the film erased any traces of Harvey's sexuality ) .

Charlize Theron ( up for North Country ) won Best Actress in 2004 for Monster, playing Aileen Wuornos, the female serial killer motivated to kill in part to support her girlfriend.

BEST ACTOR

Philip Seymour Hoffman ( nominated for Capote ) memorably played drag performer Rusty Zimmerman in Flawless ( 2000 ) in which he gave macho Robert DeNiro voice coaching lessons—and a lesson in tolerance after DeNiro suffers a stroke. Hoffman also played gay in Boogie Nights as the hilarious Scotty J, who secretly nurses a crush on stud muffin Dirk Diggler ( played by Mark Wahlberg ) .

Terrence Howard ( nominated for Hustle & Flow ) told Interview magazine in 2000 while promoting The Best Man that he was going to play a gay man with epilepsy in Sextet, a film about a hip-hop band that Howard said would co-star Djimon Honsou and Omar Epps. But to my knowledge, nothing came of the movie.

Heath Ledger ( up for Brokeback Mountain ) started his career with a bang ( and set a million hearts aflame ) playing a gay Olympic cyclist in Sweat, a TV drama set in Australia, Ledger's homeland.

Joaquin Phoenix ( up for I Walk the Line ) was memorable as the prissy, evil Roman emperor Commodus with the ambiguous sexuality in Gladiator and who sported more eye make-up than singer Dusty Springfield or Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra.

David Strathairn ( nominated for Good Night, And Good Luck ) doesn't seem to have played a gay character in the movies or on television, though I wouldn't be surprised if the theatrer-trained actor has taken a walk on our side while treading the boards. Let me know if you're aware of a gay character in Strathairn's resume.

Outside of these big categories, special mention must be made, of course, of William Hurt, nominated this year in the Supporting Actor category for A History of Violence. Hurt has the distinction of being the first actor to win Oscar gold portraying an openly gay character—in 1985's Kiss of the Spider Woman. Tom Hanks was the second in 1993's Philadelphia. We have yet to see a third—though either Philip Seymour Hoffman ( my choice ) for Capote or Heath Ledger for Brokeback Mountain ( my I-Wouldn't-Be-Terribly-Upset-If-He-Wins choice ) might make it the charming third.

I'm also rooting for Felicity Huffman to walk onstage when her name's called as Best Actress for Transamerica, the first win for an actress playing a transgendered character. Maureen Stapelton won an Oscar as bisexual activist Emma Goldman in 1981 for Reds, as did Nicole Kidman as writer ( and perhaps closeted lesbian ) Virginia Woolf in The Hours in 2002.

A lot of the performances and films that I think are worthy, naturally, have been overlooked once again by the Academy and awards shows are as much about the way they're presented ( she wore that on purpose? Beyoncé's really going to sing EVERY song? ) anyway. Honestly, this gay man's national holiday is more a social event than anything else. But that won't stop me from hoping that this year we have something more to celebrate at the conclusion of the show's usual three-hour running time than hideously wrong designer gowns, delightfully awful Best Song performances, clever lines scripted backstage by gay icon Bruce Vilanch and merciless close-ups of anxious stars.

Here's hoping come Sunday that the Year of the Gay Movies is also the Year of the Gay Movies that won Academy Awards.

______

Oscar, Oscar: Aside from all the private shindigs ( sorry, our guest list is full ) , there are numerous Academy Award shindigs around town. Many of these are benefits for Our People and offer big fancy dinners; the chance to dress in formal wear and hobnob with fellow Oscar revelers; wide screen projections of the show; and drag performers costumed as iconic movie stars.

But the only local fete officially sanctioned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences itself is being held at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State. The party, the 12th annual, is a benefit for the center and will kick off at 5:30 and go until midnight. Guests ( hopefully in the suggested black tie or 'Awards glam' attire ) will get to watch the awards show on one of the theater's two screens while browsing through the official awards program distributed to the Hollywood folks. VIP guests also get the official poster. Everyone gets to partake of the buffet ( donated by Food for Thought ) , mingle on the red carpet with a Joan Rivers impersonator and bid on silent auction items. Tickets range from $100-$1,000. Call ( 312 ) 846-2072 or see www.siskelfilmcenter.com .

Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com .


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