“Gay movies all suck!”
As a critic who regularly reviews movies of gay interest, I hear this a lot. And while it’s undoubtedly true that there are gay movies that do suck, I’m not sure they suck at any higher rates than other genres. Do micro-budgeted gay indie movies tend to suck more? Not any more than all micro-budgeted indie movies, I’d argue. Most of us just don’t watch that many micro-budgeted movies.
And even if some gay movies do suck, there are indisputably plenty of others that don’t. In fact, when I sat down to make this annual list, I was surprised by how quickly I came up with a number of truly outstanding films. And what do you know? They all veered between “micro-budget” and “low-budget,” with a smattering of “high-enough-budget-to-at-least-pay-a-caterer” (and there’s also one studio movie).
All in all, it wasn’t a bad year for gay film — except when you consider there was only one studio film on my list, and it was far and away the least overtly “gay.”
A note of explanation: technically, some of these films were “released” before 2010, sometimes at film festivals or in a very limited theatrical run. Meanwhile, some of these movies didn’t get theatrical releases at all. The point is, would these films all meet the qualifications for Oscar nominations? Maybe not, but I’m including them in my 2010 list anyway, because this is the year they came into prominence to me and most GLBT audiences, whether through a theatrical release or a DVD one.
And so, without further ado, fire up your Netflix queue, because here are my picks for the eight best gay-themed filmed of 2010! (And yes, they’re in order, counting down to my very favorite.)
Leslie Jordan in My Trip Down the Pink Carpet
9. My Trip Down the Pink Carpet: When you meet someone who is totally comfortable in their skin, completely at peace with who they are, it’s tempting to think, “Oh, it must be so easy for them.” But this film of the one-man stage show of out actor Leslie Jordan shows that, at least for him, self-acceptance was a cold hard slog. On TV appearances like Will & Grace, Jordan comes across as something of a mischievous imp. In this movie, he comes across that way too — while also being bitter, foul-mouthed, bitchy, air head-y, dishy, raunchy, angry, and — guess what? — ultimately, very thoughtful. The movie is very bare bones, but this is still a trip worth taking.
Next Page! A low budget musical and, um, hot boys in their undies!
Charles Nelson Reilly
8. Life of Reilly: Who knew? Charles Nelson Reilly, that campy game show fixture from the 1970s, was not only a terrific actor, he lived a fascinating, Zelig-like life. The film version of his riveting one-man stage show Save it for the Stage pretty much defines the term “tour de force” (although it too is very bare bones). Nelson Reilly died shortly after the filming of this movie — what we’re seeing is literally his last performance. But what a performance! His Tonight Show response to a fellow guest who accused him of not knowing anything about Shakespeare is classic. Thank God this important history was all captured on film.
7. Plan B: This Argentine movie about straight men falling in love has the guts to go where the American indie film Humpday didn’t. The pace is a little slow, but the movie perfectly captures the aimlessness and casual attitudes about sex among twentysomethings in urban Argentina (and elsewhere). Mostly, I like that it communicates that essential truth that every twentysomething eventually learns: sex can seem casual, but once emotions are involved, it’s always complicated.
The cast of Fruit Fly
6. Fruit Fly: Regular readers of my reviews know that I’m picky about plot, but Fruit Fly doesn’t really have one. So why the hell do I love it anyway? The catchy, clever, and audacious songs and very appealing cast. But beware: once you see this made-on-a-shoestring movie, you’ll remember it the rest of your life every time you hear the expression “versatile bottom”!
Next Page! Another gay hustler movie? But it’s a good one, trust me!
Ben Bonenfant in Strapped
5. Strapped: Is there a more tired, done-to-death gay film genre than the hustler movie? I for one was certain there was absolutely nothing new to be said. But who knew? In Strapped, a name-less hustler finishes a house-call in an apartment building, but finds himself unable to find the building’s exit, instead encountering a series of different gay people in the building who all seem to want something different from him. There are so many ways this could’ve gone off the rails, but writer-director Joseph Graham finds the perfect touch, with an especially moving ending that is both unexpected and completely inevitable. “It’s an apartment building,” one character says of the hustler’s inability to find the door out. “It’s not purgatory.” Or is it?
4. Tangled: How is this animated Disney film a “gay” movie? Um, did you see it? What gay person can’t relate to a kid who slowly realizes your parents might not have your best interests at heart? What about the scene in the Snuggly Duckling when the thugs all dare to show their “softer” sides? And don’t get me started on the Broadway-ready songs, the surprisingly hunky (for a cartoon) Flynn Rider, and one of the greatest, campiest Disney villains of all time, Mother Gothel, gloriously voice-acted by Donna Murphy, who is my new hero.
Annette Benning (left) and Julianne Moore
3. The Kids Are All Right: I hate hype, but in this case, the hype turned out to be absolutely on-the-money. The performances are fantastic, the characters and situations are incredibly real, and let’s not forget Mark Ruffalo’s amazing bare ass! Some lesbians like gay porn? Who knew? Hell, I liked this lesbian-themed dramedy so much that I’m including it on my list of the best gay male films! My only quibble? There’s no excuse for that hoary lesbian movie cliche in the dead center of the movie.
Emma Stone in Easy A
2. Easy A: I’ll say it: I think most of the other critics missed the point of this movie, basically dismissing it as just another teen sex comedy. Which it is, but it’s also a subversive commentary on teen sex comedies. Ever notice that they’re mostly about straight boys trying to have sex with girls? This movie’s (gay) screenwriter decided to tell the story from the other side of the equation: but if having sex makes straight boys popular, why does it make girls “slutty”? The result is not just a hilarious film that not only works as a teen sex comedy, but also one that makes a smart, provocative point about the double-standard between male and female sexuality. Let’s not forget the star-making turn by Emma Stone — and yup, there’s a gay character too!
Next Page! The best gay movie of the year! (Plus my picks for the worst!)
Manolo Cardona (left) and Cristian Mercado in Undertow
1. Undertow (Contracorriente): My pick for the best gay film of 2010 is the story of a closeted gay man in a tiny, very traditional fishing village in Peru. I loved everything about it, from the tender script and amazing performances to the incredible realism of the village where it’s set (populated with the real-life fishermen in a real-life village). But to say any more about this movie is to spoil some of its wonderful surprises. Just Netflix it, okay? And for the record? AfterElton.com was high on this film even before the Sundance award, the rave mainstream reviews, and the decision by Peru to submit this as their nominee for the Best Foreign Film Oscar (which I’m convinced will soon land it a full-fledged and well-deserved nomination).
I Love You, Phillip Morris: Probably the highest-profile “gay” movie of the year, I think the campy tone clashes with the “this-really-happened” angle of the story and distances viewers from the gay romance (and as always, I didn’t like Jim Carrey). But it is an amazing story, and I give Carrey and the filmmakers credit for “going there” in an explicitly gay love story.
Howl: Talk about falling through the cracks! This Allen Ginsberg bio-pic starring James Franco grossed a mere $500,000 in the U.S. to decidedly mixed reviews. It didn’t screen for critics and only played very briefly in the city where I live, so I never even saw it. Is it any good?
Rivers Wash Over Me
Is It Just Me? I think this modest gay romantic comedy has a flaw in its central (overused) premise, but the leads are sweet and charming, and the film’s heart is absolutely in the right place.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World: I hated this movie (yes, yes, I know many people passionately disagree with me, but let’s face it: audiences stayed away in droves). But even I can see that Scott’s best friend Wallace (played by Kieran Culkin) is one of the best, most interesting gay screen portrayals ever: openly sexual, recognizably gay, but never a cliche.
Rivers Wash Over Me: The ending is needlessly depressing and the story takes too long to get started, but the acting and the atmosphere are incredible in this indie film about a young gay African American teen who must move in with relatives in violent, repressive rural Alabama.
Bear City: The humor doesn’t all work and the over-sexualized story meanders, but I think the performances are good (sometimes excellent), and the film gets credit for being one of the first to look at the American gay “bear” community.
Next Page! The worst gay movies of the year!
Sex and the City 2: What can you say? Nice try? Except it wasn’t. A bloated misfire from start to finish. That said, the virulence of the reviews from mainstream critics was interesting: why are all the by-the-numbers superhero movies and horribly hammy, male-centric comedies shrugged off as harmless while this female (and gay)-centered movie was condemned as the coming of the apocalypse?
Brotherhood: This Danish movie about a couple of gay neo-Nazis tried to be something of a Brokeback Mountain-like story of a tragically secret gay affair, but the only characters I cared anything about were the Muslims and gay kids the white supremacists were harassing; I kept hoping they’d beat the s**t out of the evil, bigoted main characters.
Walter Delmar (left), Matthew Montgomery in Pornography
Pornography: A Thriller: How do you screw up a movie with a title like “Pornography“? With over-used “snuff”-thriller cliches and an incomprehensible (and pretentious) script. But before it goes off the rails and becomes self-important, the first half of the movie is actually somewhat intriguing.
Valentine’s Day: Plenty of people criticized the movie for gay tokenism and the fact that the story of the briefly-seen gay couple didn’t have a romantic storyline, but — call me too-easily pleased —I actually think a big, fat Hollywood movie like this deserves (a small measure of) credit for including gay characters at all. What I found inexcusable was the pathetically hackneyed, unfunny script.
From Beginning to End: I found this “gay incest” movie about two brothers who fall in love to be an almost completely missed opportunity. Sure, the boys are (stunningly) pretty, and the sex scenes are very hot. But while the first half of the movie is intriguing (featuring the characters as young boys), when the love story kicks in, things get stupid very fast.
Hot Tub Time Machine: My review of this movie was pretty much a rant, wondering why John Cusack would agree to work on such a thoroughly mediocre, vaguely homophobic script. Enough with the tired gay panic jokes, Hollywood, all right?