The announcement that the Oscar nominations for Best Picture would expand from five to 10 has proven a wise one. From Avatar to Up in the Air, there's seemingly something in the nominations for all audiences. And, yes, I include queer moviegoers with the inclusion of Precious because of its inherent queer sensibility and positive lesbian characters.
Yet once again I find myself irritated with the Oscars. ( I'm still not over Bette Midler losing the Oscar for The Rose to Sally Field for Norma Rae in 1979; neither is Bette. ) This year I'm a crabby pants because neither Valentino: The Last Emperor, Outrage nor Capitalism: A Love Story got documentary nominations. I'm also a sorehead when it comes to the queer movie of the year, A Single Man. Not only was it one of the best-reviewed films of 2009, it's still doing well at the box office. But there was no nod for Best Picture or one for Julianne Moore for Supporting Actress or the eye-popping cinematography or that gorgeous set design and art direction. And that wistful, achingly beautiful film scoreeasily the year's best? Another shut-out.
Is this another case of fuddy-duddy Academy members dissing a queer movie or a cash-strapped Weinstein Company putting its considerable Oscar campaign finesse behind a proven winner, Inglourious Basterds? Whatever the reason is, when I get all pissy about such matters I take heart by looking back over the history of queer at the Oscars. With a little delving under the red carpet, it comes to light that from its very first ceremony queer movies, actors and filmmakers have been part of the Oscars.
So here are a few queer Oscar highlights through the decades:
1927: The very first Best Picture Oscar winner is Wings, the story of two WWI fighter pilots. The film, excerpted in The Celluloid Closet, features a homoerotic relationship and death-bed kiss between stars Richard Arlen and Buddy Rogers.
1932-1933: The closeted Charles Laughton wins Best Actor for The Private Life of Henry VIII and suspected bisexual Katharine Hepburn wins Best Actress Morning Glory.
1939: Gay icon Judy Garland wins a child Oscar for her performance as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. ( Almost 20 years later she would lose for A Star Is Bornstill one of Oscar's biggest oversights. )
1949: An Oscar goes to gay classical and film composer Aaron Copland's score of The Heiress, a movie with queer star Montgomery Clift and Olivia De Haviland ( who wins Oscar gold for Best Actress ) . Openly gay music arranger/composer/producer Roger Edens also wins for Easter Parade.
1958: Gigi wins nine Oscars, including Best Pictures and Best Director for unacknowledged bisexual Vincente Minnelli, gay costume designer Cecil Beaton and lyricist Frederick Loewe for the film's title song.
1968: Gay and lesbian icons Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn tie for the Best Actress Oscaruniting both communities in one fell swoop.
1969: Midnight Cowboy, which is essentially a gay love story, is the only X-rated film to ever win the Best Picture Oscar. Openly queer director John Schlesinger also wins.
1972: Gay icon Liza Minnelli wins Best Actress for Cabaret, a film with unapologetic gay characters.
1983: Lesbian actress Linda Hunt wins Best Supporting Actress for The Year of Living Dangerously for playing a male charactera gender-bender first at the Oscars.
1985: William Hurt wins Best Actor playing gay in Kiss of the Spider Womananother Oscar first.
1988: Jodie Foster, who is believed to be a lesbian, wins the first of two Best Actress Oscars for The Accused playing opposite now-out actress Kelly McGillis. Foster would win again three years later for Silence of the Lambs.
1993: Tom Hanks wins his first Best Actor Oscar playing a gay man with AIDS in the film Philadelphia.
1994: The first openly gay actor, Nigel Hawthorne, is nominated for Best Actor for The Madness of King George and attends the ceremony with his partner.
1999: Hilary Swank wins the first of two Best Actress Oscars playing the murdered trans individual Brandon Teena in Boys Don't Cry.
2003: Charlize Theron gives a career-altering performance as lesbian serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster and wins Best Actress in the process.
2005: The year of the Queer OscarsBrokeback Mountain loses Best Picture to Crash but wins several other awards; Philip Seymour Hoffman bests Heath Ledger's Brokeback performance and wins Best Actor playing gay writer Truman Capote in Capote; and Felicity Huffman gets a Best Actress nod playing a transwoman in Transamerica.
2006: Lesbian icon Melissa Etheridge wins Best Song for "I Need to Wake Up" from An Inconvenient Truth.
2008: Milk wins multiple nominations and Oscars go to Sean Penn and out screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who both give moving acceptance speeches directed at the gay community. Lesbian fave Penelope Cruz wins Best Supporting Actress for Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
The Gene Siskel Film Center is kicking off its monthlong 13th Annual European Union Film Festival Friday, March 5, with 59 features of all genresall Chicago premieres. Several queer-themed films and movies of interest to LGBT audiences are included in the festival. The first week's line-up includes the Irish romantic mystery Ondine, which stars hottie Colin Farrell, playing March 6 and 10; Mid-August Lunch, a change-of-pace comedy from the director of the Italian mob drama Gomorrah also screening March 6; and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a Swedish thriller from local distributor Music Box Films, also on the bill for March 6. I'll be highlighting other selected titles as the series progresses. See www.siskelfilmcenter.org .
Battle of the Oscar parties: Two of the Windy City's swankiest Academy Award parties battling it out Sunday, March 7, are "On the Red Carpet: Center on Halsted Oscar Party 2010," which is being held at the Fairmont Chicago, 200 N. Columbus, as a benefit for the Center. It begins at 6 p.m. with a red-carpet reception followed by the 7 p.m. viewing party that includes cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. General admission is $75; $100 for VIPs includes reserved seating and table service. Nearby, the Gene Siskel Film Center will host "Oscar Night America 2010," with tickets at $100 per person. The 6 p.m. red-carpet call comes with a glass of champagne offered by hostess Amanda Puck followed by the 7 p.m. viewing party, which includes food, cocktails, auction items and, as Chicago's only officially sanctioned Academy Awards party, the official Oscar program bookletan enviable keepsake. See www.centeronhalsted.org and www.siskelfilmcenter.org for complete information on both soirees.
Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter Web site.