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Knight at the Movies: Queer at the Oscars; Fourplay
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times
2013-02-20

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For eight years I have written about that annual event I refer to as the Gay Man's national holiday aka the Oscar telecast (slated this year for Sunday, Feb. 24). Some years I've been as excited as all get out about the awards while other years, well, there just hasn't been all that much to get worked up about. That's the kind of year this is—not exactly dullsville but not particularly riveting, either—at least when it comes to handicapping the big prize winners.

Oh I know, I know—my fellow showtune queens will feel justly rewarded when Anne Hathaway gets her just reward for having her hair buzzed and singing through buckets of snot for 12 hours straight as the cameras turned in Les Miz, when she waltzes to the stage early in the evening to claim her Best Supporting Actress statuette. That is, of course, if the backlash about her humble-pie routine hasn't placed the Oscar in someone else's manicured hands. Win or lose, I found Les Miz a really long slog, and I am firmly in the "much ado about not so much" camp about it. And I'm still kinda smarting that Judi Dench didn't get a nod for Skyfall for a performance that easily kicked Hathaway and the others right to the curb (although I exempt Lincoln's Sally Field from that snide assessment).

As for Best Actor, Hugh Jackman couldn't hit the high notes during the 11 O'Clock number in Les Miz without noticeably straining and didn't take his shirt off (10 points subtracted right there). And shirt on or off, neither he nor the other gents nominated have a chance against that acting juggernaut known as Daniel Day-Lewis for his superlative work in Lincoln. (I'd say let's just put Day-Lewis in the Oscar Hall of Fame right now but I can't because Nine is still out there lowering his acting point average.)

The Best Actress category has no such shoo-in and not one nominee that really held the screen with her performance alone. Without Meryl, Our Lady of the Accents, in the running or Julia Roberts in a push-up bra telling off the world or Hilary Swank being beaten to a pulp and coming back for more, the category comes down to the 85 year-old actress and the kid. On a side note, I am of the opinion—which I will restate here in print—that the Academy Awards had it right when kids got special child-sized Oscars and the acting categories were left to the adults. (This is also the perfect time for me to publicly plead with the Academy to demand the return of Anna Paquin's Oscar for The Piano.)

Back to Best Actress. It's true, I loved Emmanuelle Riva, the elderly actress in Amour, but again, it wasn't one of those "Bette Davis Eats the Screen Before Your Very Eyes!" kind of performances that will resonate throughout the halls of time. I strongly believe—and please feel free to email me your most vitriolic rebuts—that if frontrunner Jennifer Lawrence deserved a nod this year (which she didn't) it should have been for her work in The Hunger Games and not for Silver Linings Playbook (which did deserve a nod for Bradley Cooper but nothing else).

The Hunger Games also should have been a Best Picture contender in my estimation and though it looks like Argo is going to get it (not a bad choice) I'd still opt for Skyfall—if only it had gotten nominated, too.

As for the Supporting Actor category, this year it's a literal snooze—the combined ages of the three favorites Robert DeNiro, Tommy Lee Jones and Alan Arkin is, I think, 192 (or thereabouts). Now I've nothing against senior actors (see note above on Judi Dench) and I hailed Christopher Plummer's win last year as the gay seventysomething in Beginners but where, oh where, was the nomination for Ezra Miller's sensational turn as the openly gay teen gadfly in The Perks of Being a Wallflower?

Okay—now we're getting to the heart of it. I'm blasé this year with regard to the Oscar race for all the reasons above but mainly because I'm missing at least a couple of queer-themed films and/or nominations and/or both in the big categories. Yes, I'm thrilled that David France's documentary How to Survive a Plague is sure to win—thus bringing more attention to the scourge that was AIDS in the '80s and further legitimizing a seminal moment in our queer history at the same time. But where's this year's Brokeback Mountain or Capote or Milk or The Kids Are All Right or Monster or Far From Heaven or Gods and Monsters or Boys Don't Cry?

I'm looking forward to seeing how Seth McFarlane handles the job—he's awfully cute and awfully clever—and the James Bond tribute and Adele singing live and, old showtune queen that I am, I'm psyched to hear what Barbra Streisand will perform. (I suspect it will be a tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, perhaps "The Way We Were" over the death tribute.) But all in all, this year's Oscars is not exactly the Gay Man's National Holiday of previous ceremonies is it? For that we'd need a lot more queer content—more openly gay actors with nominations, more queer themed movies and queer themed biopics, etc., etc.—or at least some sense of surprise and not all these boring slam dunks.

And excuse me, but where was the Best Picture nomination for Cloud Atlas, for God's sake?! Oh geez, don't get me started again.

Locally based queer director Kyle Henry's indie feature Fourplay is having its Chicago debut at the Gene Siskel Film Center (164 N. State St.) Feb. 22, 23 and 25. Henry's movie—which has played to great critical response at various festivals across the country and has Michael Stipe as one of its producers—is a quartet of short films set in different cities (Skokie, Ill.; Austin, Texas; Tampa, Fla.; and San Francisco) and linked by its provocative (and how) sexual themes.

For my money (though not my libido!) the cheeky and often hilarious opener, which has the sharpest writing (by Jessica Hedrick), is the best of the lot. It centers on Sara Sevigny as Gail, a shy, large and lovely lesbian (apparently closeted) who nurses an unrequited crush (complete with sexy beach lovemaking fantasies) on her fellow church choir singer, Marcy (Amy Jean Johnson), a pretty-ish brunette who has no clue about her friend's proclivities. Then a dog-watching/house-sitting situation while Marcy and her husband are out of town surprisingly leads in an unexpected—and cheerfully perverse—direction involving Marcy's pesky but adorable lap dog, Myra.

The other segments will also be of interest to queer film audiences but they're not for the sexually faint-of-heart, either. One involves a straight couple trying to get their mojo back by engaging in some role-playing, which leads to a tryst in the back room of an adult book store; another gives us a humorous—and very profane—fantasy men's room urinal orgy; and the final segment involves a transgender female prostitute who has an alternately touching and surprisingly sensual encounter with a disabled elderly client (and, yes, it will remind you of The Sessions, although that's obviously nothing more than a fortuitous coincidence).

Each of the films in Fourplay is well-acted by a group of unknowns (kudos to the casting director) and Henry's eye for detail and his well-chosen music selections are a bonus. However, the writing of the final three segments—none of which seems to have any real point or fresh insight into the sexual area they explore—left me wanting to ditch them and continue on with that intriguing, twisted and very fun premise set up in the first. Perhaps Henry will consider expanding it into a full-length movie at some point. www.siskelfilmcenter.org

Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitymediagroup.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter website.


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