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The decade in queer movies; film note
Knight at the Movies:
by Richard Knight, Jr.
2010-01-06

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The 1990s saw the unofficial birth of queer cinema, a trend that started in the underground, slowly made its way to the mainstream and expanded exponentially throughout the last decade.

Though there still aren't nearly enough LGBT-themed movies breaking through to mainstream audiences ( let alone queer ones ) to suit me, the last 10 years have seen a steady upward momentum in terms of quantity, quality and most importantly, visibility for Our People at the cineplex. Now that the Aughts are behind us as we enter the tens here's a look back at some of the highlights of the past decade in queer movies.

The millennium opened with Big Eden, Before Night Falls and Best in Show—three movies that helped define the years ahead in queer cinema. Big Eden, the charming debut of out writer-director Thomas Bezucha remains my favorite gay-themed romance with its always-potent message of love conquering all; on the other hand, Before Night Falls gave audiences the double bonus of the compelling portrait of queer writer Reinaldo Arenas and an instant star in Javier Bardem, who played him. Christopher Guest's improv comedy Best in Show lovingly and hilariously gave us comedic portraits of both a gay and lesbian couple and the movie also gave out actor Jane Lynch her breakout role. The year 2001 saw the arrival of John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig and the Angry Inch—his searing, moving and razor-sharp portrait of a transgendered rock singer along with the darling lesbian comedy Kissing Jessica Stein. Other highlights of the year included The Deep End, The Fluffer and director Robert Altman's Gosford Park.

The next three years saw an increasing number of LGBT-related movies with some terrific highlights that included out director Rob Marshall's Chicago, which won the 2002 Oscar for Best Picture and single-handedly brought back musicals to the movies. Nicole Kidman took the Oscar the same year, playing bisexual writer Virginia Woolf in the adaptation of gay author Michael Cunningham's The Hours. ( Meryl Streep played a lesbian character in the film, garnering another of her 2,000 nominations. ) Far From Heaven—new queer cinema director Todd Haynes' masterful homage to the '50s melodramas of Douglas Sirk with Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid as her closeted gay husband—arrived in 2003, along with a batch of offbeat LGBT-themed fare: Die! Mommie! Die!, Girls will be Girls, Latter Days, Monster, Normal and Party Monster among them.

A Home at the End of the World and Alexander ( both which featured Colin Farrell playing bisexual characters ) , Mysterious Skin, Bill Condon's Kinsey, Jonathan Caouette's autobiographical documentary Tarnation, Brian Dannelly's Saved! and Hellbent—the first queer slasher flick—were some of the LGBT film highlights of 2004.

Gay movies went to the Oscars in 2005, headed by Brokeback Mountain, the critically lauded financial hit which found Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as two lonely cowboys romantically involved with each other, enthralling audiences worldwide. ( Ledger's final film¬≠—Terry Gilliam's gorgeous-but-thin fantasia The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, with Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Brad Pitt filling in Ledger's unfinished scenes—opens Friday, Jan. 8, at the Music Box Theatre. ) Capote star Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Best Actor Oscar playing the gay icon/author Truman Capote while Felicity Huffman won a Best Actress nomination playing a transgendered woman in out writer-director Duncan Tucker's Transamerica.

Crash edged Brokeback for the Best Picture Oscar, an oversight that, in retrospect, perfectly justifies Our People's protests over the slight. The loss presaged a relative dry spell in queer cinema in 2006 and 2007—though Imagine Me & You, Hate Crime, Infamous, Quinceanera, Running with Scissors, Notes on a Scandal, V for Vendetta, The History Boys, Gay Sex in the 70s, The Quiet, Time to Leave, Kinky Boots, Two Drifters, Save Me, For the Bible Tells Me So, Zoo, The Man of My Life and, especially, the return of John Cameron Mitchell's sexually explicit and rousing ( pun intended ) Shortbus helped keep LGBT-themed cinema alive.

The year 2008 had very little in the way of gay movies ( and forget about lesbian and transgendered films ) though again, there were some decided exceptions to the rule—Brideshead Revisited, The Witnesses, Shelter, Chris & Don: A Love Story, Black, White + Gray, The Life of Riley, and both Mamma Mia! and Wall-E, two of the year's biggest box-office hits— had gay characters or subtext. ( I'm convinced little Wall-E the robot is gay and Eve is his gal pal. ) This was also the year that we got big-screen versions of Sex and the City and its gay African-American doppelganger Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom. The highlight of 2008, of course, was Milk, queer director Gus Van Sant's tremendous biopic of slain gay-rights activist Harvey Milk that won a well-deserved Oscar for Sean Penn and scriptwriter Dustin Lance Black, whose impassioned acceptance speeches helped to momentarily heal wounds after the backlash of California's Prop 8.

The final year of the decade brought us another batch of award-worthy contenders—with A Single Man and Precious sure to be Oscar-nominated along with Valentino: The Last Emperor as a possible Documentary Oscar nominee. There were several other notable LGBT-themed films in 2009—Outrage, Taking Woodstock, Bruno, Hannah Free and Little Ashes, among them—for queer film enthusiasts to trumpet and which give Our People much to anticipate at the movies in the decade ahead.

Film note:

Chicago Filmmakers kicks off the new year Saturday, Jan. 9, with Confessions of a Lesbian Director: Films of Chris J. Russo. The evening, which is part of the ongoing Dyke Delicious screening series, will include a program of six of the short films of Russo, many of them autobiographical in nature. Russo will appear in person. Titles include Straight Down the Aisle: Confessions of Lesbian Bridesmaids, Size 'Em Up, A Woman Reported, I Just Want To Be Alone: The Trailer, Directed By Dorothy Arzner: Scenes from the Directors Lab and 25 Random Things I Did During My Big Fat Lesbian Depression. As with other Dyke Delicious programs at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark, the evening begins with a social hour at 7 p.m. followed by the 8 p.m. screening. Visit www.chicagofilmmakers.org or call 773-294-1447.

Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter Web site.


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