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windy city times gift guide
by Steve Warren

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It's been another banner year for gay/lesbian cinema, in quantity if not in quality. And most of the flicks that played theatrically after doing the festival circuit are making it to video in time for Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa giving.

The No. 1 item on most gay wish lists, the complete first season of Showtime's Queer as Folk won't be available until Jan. 8, but you can place an advance order and leave an IOU under the tree. That will ensure the relationship lasts at least two weeks beyond Christmas. It retails for over $100 ( a bargain considering it runs over 16 hours ) but most outlets will discount it, so shop around.

The first part of this column of gift suggestions is divided almost equally between 2000 and 2001 theatrical releases that came out on video in 2001, with some of the latter just hitting stores this month ( release dates in parentheses ) . The second part highlights some all-time personal favorites.

Aimee & Jaguar...A dramatization of the incredible-but-true romance between a Nazi housewife ( Juliane Kohler ) and a Jewish activist ( Maria Schrader ) during World War II, glossily realized by director Max Farberbock.

All Over the Guy...There's not much chemistry between Dan Bucatinsky ( who also adapted the script from his one-man show ) and Richard Ruccolo, but their romance gets more screen time than that of their straight friends, Adam Goldberg and Sasha Alexander. ( Dec. 18 )

Before Night Falls...Julian Schnabel ( Basquiat ) directs Javier Bardem as gay poet Reinaldo Arenas in the story of his life from his childhood in Cuba to his death from AIDS in New York.

Best in Show...Christopher Guest's ( Waiting for Guffman ) campy dogumentary is one of the queerest straight movies of all time, including a gay male couple and two women who find each other among the competitors at a dog show.

Billy Elliott...The 11-year-old protagonist ( Jamie Bell ) isn't gay but his best friend is ( and so is director Stephen Daldry ) and Billy wants to be a ballet dancer, which doesn't sit well with his macho father. Julie Walters also stars.

Boys Life 3...Five shorts of varying but mostly high quality. Majorettes in Space is the most creative, Hitch the most erotic, $30 the sweetest, Jason Gould's Inside Out the most exploitable and Just One Time the first to be spun off into a separate feature.

Boys to Men...Another shorts package, four of them, ranging from the brief and pointless...lost to the poignant Crush, the wood-producing The Mountain King and finally The Confession, which no one should be allowed to watch unless accompanied by a Catholic.

The Broken Hearts Club...The format, the lives and loves of a group of gay men and a token lesbian couple, is the same as Queer as Folk and several recent films; but Greg Berlanti's is the best of the features, with a solid cast.

Burlesk King...Filipino youths rub soap over their near-naked bodies as they shake their groove things in stories that are even soapier, in the last of a virtual trilogy that includes "Macho Dancer" and "Midnight Dancers." Strictly eye candy.

The Closet...Francis Veber's hilarious French comedy is about a straight man ( Daniel Auteuil ) who pretends to be gay so his company will be afraid to fire him. Gerard Depardieu plays a homophobe who comes around, perhaps too far.

Come Undone...Summer romance, French style, of more interest for the affection displayed by teenage protagonists Stephane Rideau and Jeremie Elkaim than for the arty, intentionally obscure screenplay that bounces between their affair and its aftermath. ( Dec. 4 )

Criminal Lovers...One of two 2000 releases by gay French director Francois Ozon ( the other, Water Drops on Burning Rocks is also recommended ) , this is a twisted retelling of Hansel and Gretel. Instead of brother and sister they're a teen boy and his beard, and the witch ( warlock ) isn't wicked, just kinky.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch...Queer of the Year John Cameron Mitchell adapted, directed and stars in his off-Broadway rock musical about a German transsexual who was an inch away from stardom when a teenage boyfriend stole her songs and rode them to the top. ( Dec. 11 )

I'm the One that I Want...Fag Hag of the Year Margaret Cho regales a largely queer San Francisco audience with 90 minutes or so of A material drawn from her life. The good times and bad all come out hilarious, and she encores with the Ass Master story.

John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars...The only good thing about this dreadful sci-fi adventure is Pam Grier's performance as a lesbian...killed off too soon.

Lost and Delirious...Mischa Barton watches and takes notes as Jessica Pare goes straight and dumps Piper Perabo in Lea Pool's Canadian girls school drama about the intensity of some teenagers' feelings. ( Dec. 11 )

Nico and Dani...It could have been a love story, but only one of the Spanish teens is gay. After resolving how far the boys are going to go together sexually this bittersweet drama gets down to the real question: can the friendship survive?

101 Rent Boys...Partners Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato ( The Eyes of Tammy Faye ) have made the best of several recent ( in some cases pseudo- ) documentaries about the men of the world's oldest profession. For $50 each, 101 of them bared their bodies and souls. The uncut video is 1/2-hour longer than the Cinemax version.

Shadow of the Vampire...Willem Dafoe's performance as actor Max Schreck is the best of many great elements in E. Elias Merhige's fictional story of the filming of Nosferatu by queer director F.W. Murnau ( John Malkovich ) with a real vampire.

Songcatcher...The protagonist's lesbian sister ( Jane Adams ) is mostly incidental but ultimately pivotal in Maggie Greenwald's drama about a musicologist ( Janet McTeer ) doing research in the Appalachians a century ago.

Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her...Calista Flockhart and Valeria Golina play lesbian lovers in one of five female-oriented vignettes in Rodrigo Garcia's brilliant drama that inexplicably bypassed theaters to premiere on cable.

Urbania...Dan Futterman spends a night wandering around New York, remembering and re-encountering people from his past, in Daniel Reitz's adaptation of his play Urban Folk Tales, directed for the screen by Jon Shear.

What's Cooking?...Four families of different ethnicities celebrate Thanksgiving in Gurinda Chadha's dramedy. The Jewish family includes a lesbian daughter ( Kyra Sedgwick ) and her lover ( Julianna Margulies ) . Expect more of these ensemble films that give us more or less proportional representation.

The term classic is being abused in marketing the DVDebut of The Toilers and the Wayfarers, a decent, low-budget independent that illustrates the difference between classic and merely old. The titles below are true classics in my as-yet-unwritten book

Beautiful Thing ( 1996 ) ...Hettie McDonald's film of Jonathan Harvey's play is the film every queer teenager should see to counter all the bullshit around them, the story of the romance we all wish we'd had in our teens.

Before Stonewall ( 1985 ) ...Every old queen wants to make every young twink watch this so they can say, See how we suffered so you wouldn't have to. In reality the goal at the time was personal survival, not liberation of future generations, but this look at how it was from the 1920s to the 1960s is fascinating viewing for all ages.

Bound ( 1996 ) ...Gina Gershon, the only good thing about Showgirls, and Jennifer Tilly bond, fuck and outsmart the mob in a sexy, violent thriller that was the Wachowski Brothers' warm-up for The Matrix.

The Boys in the Band ( 1970 ) ...Forever going in and out of fashion, Mart Crowley's play was a perfect snapshot of urban gay life just prior to Stonewall, and William Friedkin's film presents it virtually unchanged.

The Celluloid Closet ( 1995 ) ...Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's adaptation of Vito Russo's classic book about how queers were portrayed in the first hundred years of cinema. Clips and commentary make this an entertaining history lesson.

Edge of Seventeen ( 1999 ) ...Slightly less idealistic than Beautiful Thing, this portrait of a gay teen is set in Sandusky, Ohio in 1984; with Lea DeLaria as a lesbian ( duh ) mother hen.

Go Fish ( 1994 ) ...Like a lesbian El Mariachi Rose Troche's debut showed how budget limitations can inspire creativity if you're a natural-born filmmaker. The hip-to-the-minute romantic comedy introduced Guinevere Turner, the filmmaker's lover when it was made but not when it was released.

High Art ( 1998 ) ...Lisa Cholodenko's drama featured Ally Sheedy's career-best performance as a photographer whose attention is pulled three ways: old lover Patricia Clarkson, new lover Radha Mitchell, and drugs.

In a Glass Cage ( "Tras el Cristal" ) ( 1986 ) ...Augustin Villaronga's suspenseful Spanish drama is far better and queerer than Apt Pupil, if your tastes run to stories of turning the tables on Nazi torturers.

In & Out ( 1997 ) ...Paul Rudnick's gut-busting comedy, directed by Frank Oz, stars Kevin Kline as a small-town schoolteacher who comes out of the closet on the eve of his wedding to Joan Cusack.

k.d. lang: Harvest of Seven Years, Cropped and Chronicled ( 1991 ) ...A compilation of the singer's early career, when she had two feet in country and one in the closet. Bring it up to date with her new release, A&E's k.d. lang: Live by Request.

L'Homme Blesse ( The Wounded Man ) ( 1984 ) ...The men's room of a train station is the scene of a youth's ( Jean-Hugues Anglade ) awakening to his desire for rough trade in this excellent drama, the first film by gay French director Patrice Chereau.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit ( 1989 ) ...Jeanette Winterson's adaptation of her coming-of-age-as-a-lesbian-with-a-fundamentalist-mother novel was directed by Beeban Kidron for the BBC.

Parting Glances ( 1986 ) ...The late Bill Sherwood's only film, a dramedy about a gay man torn between his lover and his best friend, the latter stricken with AIDS, introduced the world to Steve Buscemi and Kathy Kinney.

Purple Noon ( 1960 ) ...Alain Delon is gorgeous in the first and better, though less explicitly gay, version of The Talented Mr. Ripley; directed by Rene Clement.

Something for Everyone ( 1970 ) ...Broadway director Harold Prince's first film ( of two ) is a darkly comic fairy tale about a bisexual opportunist ( Michael York ) who woos a countess ( Angela Lansbury ) and everyone else in sight to get what he wants.

Taxi zum Klo ( Taxi to the Toilet ) ( 1980 ) ...The raunchy, hippie-dippy adventures of Frank Ripploh, the closest thing to a bear in the lead of a queer film ( unless you count Robin Williams in The Birdcage ) , a gay teacher who can't keep away from public toilets.

Thank You and Goodnight ( 1991 ) ...Now a TV producer ( The Education of Max Bickford ) , Jan Oxenberg never followed up this marvelously creative memoir about getting to know her grandmother before she died. You don't have to be Jewish or a lesbian to love it.

... and almost anything by John Waters ( Desperate Living, Cry Baby ) , Derek Jarman ( Sebastiane, Edward II ) , Rainer Werner Fassbinder ( Fox and His Friends, Querelle ) or Pedro Almodovar ( What Have I Done to Deserve This, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown ) .

These are just a few favorites off the top of my head and I'm having to be physically restrained to keep from adding to it. The list could go on forever and would still only scratch the surface of the queer cinema available for home viewing, so stop reading and start watching. These will make great gifts for yourself as well as someone else.

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