The triumphs for LGBT-themed movies in 2012 echoed those of previous years and continued, by their very existence, to blur the distinctions between queer audiences and straight ones. The critically acclaimed, festival and art-house darling Keep the Lights On (distributed by Chicago-based Music Box Films), already on a slew of top 10 lists, found itself a crossover hitwith straight audiences embracing the universal themes of the fractured gay couple at the core of the picturejust as audiences took to their hearts my favorite queer movie from 2011, Weekend; The Kids Are All Right from 2010; and 2005's Brokeback Mountain.
Similarly, the black comedy Bernie, based on a true story, resonated with indie filmgoers as surely as 2011's quirky Beginners did, with its real-life roots and Oscar-winning performance by Christopher Plummer. Bullythe heart-wrenching documentary that put a spotlight on the dreadful, too-long silently sanctioned social behaviorappealed to both straight and gay audiences alike, which is no real surprise given its subject matter. So, too, have many of my previous top 10 documentary selections. This blurring of the differences between gay and straight in the movies, this crumbling of the boundary lines is, to my way of thinking, a by-product (and a very nice one) of Them getting used to and even comfortable with Us.
Ironically, as the lines are melting, the queer undercurrent in a lot of mainstream releases hasn't dimmed a whit. Although producers and marketers seem to have yet to figure out that gay men are as much a natural audience for chick flicks as straight women, they have figured out that we like looking at nearly naked hot men (and women) as much as they doif not more. Hence, there's a passel of homoerotic, high-profile flicks. Everything from a spate of superhero picturesThe Avengers; The Dark Knight Rises; and the return of James Bond via the spectacular physique of Daniel Craig in Skyfallto the prolonged sight of Zac Efron dancing around in his tighty-whities in out director Lee Daniels' gothic drama The Paperboy. All gave us plenty of eye candy to savor at length. Each of these, as well as a movie about male strippers with some of Hollywood's hottest hunks strutting their junk, were as eagerly coveted by the gay community as by their straight counterparts.
The epically scaled Cloud Atlas placed a literary gay couple at the center of the movie and made them (via their love letters) as the linking device between the many centuries and characters it covered while the endearing relationship indies The Wise Kids and Nate & Margaret (both, I hasten to add with pride, from Chicago-based out directors) mixed gay and straight protagonists without batting an eye. So, too, did the year's sweetest teenage-angst pictureno, not The Hunger Games (though that, too, had plenty of homo undercurrents) but The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
These moviesand several other genre pictures (and to this list I would add, like a beaming, proud parent, my own, Scrooge & Marley, a rare, gay-themed holiday movie)continued to mirror straight culture as they gave queer audiences movies made from our perspective, which was a refreshing change of pace.
There were certainly other aspects of the LGBT experience prominent in the movies of 2012 that canny audience members will discern in these choices. My list is in preferential order, as usual, but this year I'm also including runner-up films that fall into the same general category and that are also highly recommended viewing. For space reasons, I'm only doing notes on the first five entries. I'd like to point outas alwaysthat these "best of" lists are completely subjective. My list tends to shift around with repeat viewings and reconsiderationsas I'm sure yours dobut as I write this here's my top 10 LGBT movies for 2012:
1. Queer history: How to Survive a PlagueNew York Times journalist turned documentarian David France examines the impact that ACT-UP, in its fight to make strides in curing AIDS, had on the scientific, political and, inevitably, the culture at large in this searing, enthralling film that is a lot more than a dry history lesson of the group of militant queer activists who refused to remain silent while their brethren lay dying all around them. Beautifully inspiring and obviously, also a great cautionary tale.
Runner-up: United in Anger, a documentary history of ACT-UP.
2. Teenage angst: The Perks of Being a WallflowerTeenage angst was never so bittersweet and emotionally palpable as it is in Stephen Chbosky's directorial debut. The film, based on Chbosky's young adult best-selling novel, is a portrait of Charlie (Logan Lerman), a loner who hooks up with a gifted and stubbornly individual stepbrother and sister when he begins his sophomore year in high school. Emma Watson plays Sam, the gorgeous object of Charlie's affections, while out actor Ezra Miller plays her outrageous gay brother, Patrick. It's a bit twee at moments but also the best teenage flick since The Breakfast Club.
Runner-up: Bully, Lee Hirsch's painful and eye-opening documentary was a national sensation on the darkreally darkside of the teenage experience.
3. Artsy-fartsy: Cloud AtlasThe Chicago-based Wachowski siblings (Andy and Lana, who recently transitioned to female) co-directed this sprawling, hard-to-connect epic based on a sci-fi best-seller that spans eons of time as well as numerous countries and cultures. The three-hour running timefeaturing a star-filled cast (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, et al) who each played several parts and the movie's "we're all alike more than unalike," let's-give-peace-a-chance, Utopian themewhizzes by and leaves one thinking about it for days, which is a good thing.
Runner-up: Joshua Tree is a 1951 lyrical, fever dream of a movie shot in eye-catching black and white that ruminates on the impact of the moody and gorgeous James Dean at the beginning of his movie career on those around him. Dean's innate queerness is at the center of this fascinating movie that played the festival circuit but has yet to see a Chicago release.
4. Gay courtroom dramas: Any Day NowWriter-director Travis Fine adapts a work based on a true story to suit the talents of the inestimable Alan Cumming, who shines (and chews the scenery) playing a defiant drag queen with dreams of becoming a singer who hooks up with a closeted lawyer (the fetching and very good Garret Dillahunt) and who, together, wish to adopt an unwanted child with Down Syndrome. Set in the late '70s and early '80s, the courtroom scenes verge on the melodramaticbut that's a welcome shift from the usual "natural" (read: refrained) style of acting so in vogue these days.
Runner-up: In the Family is writer-director-star Patrick Wang's gently observed child custody drama, with Wang as a man who finds himself with no legal claim to his own son when his partner accidentally dies.
5. Queer icons: Vito is out filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz's loving portrait of the gay community's bona fide ZeligVito Russo, author of the seminal gay movie history book The Celluloid Closet, co-founder of ACT-UP, etc. Russo was a groundbreaking force to be reckoned with, up to his untimely demise from AIDS.
Runner-ups: Jobriath A.D., Me @ the Zoo and Inventing David Geffen
6. We're everywhere: The Wise Kids; Runner-up: Nate & Margaret
7. Lesbian love stories: Mosquita y Mari; Runner-ups: Jack & Diane, Farewell, My Queen
8. Art-house darlings: Keep the Lights On: Runner-up: Bernie
9. Animated queer kids: Paranormal; Runner-ups: Frankenweenie and Brave
10. "What makes you think this is my first time?": Skyfall; Runner-ups: Magic Mike and The Paperboy
Check out my archived reviews of these and other movies at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter website.