25 Gay Films Everyone Should See: The Sequel

Another round of films that helped to define the culture -- and cultural impact - of LGBT cinema

It’s a timeworn Hollywood adage: The sequel is never as good as the original. And yet, there exist exceptions to the (mostly true) rule — Aliens. The Godfather, Part II. Terminator 2. The Dark Knight. Like it or not, sequels are a cinema tradition.

Around this time in 2009, we produced a list of “25 Gay Films Everyone Should See.” On it were treasures like My Beautiful Laundrette, Boys in the Band, Desert Hearts and Maurice alongside more obvious choices like Brokeback Mountain, Transamerica and Torch Song Trilogy. We tried to make the list comprehensive, relevant and interesting. But, alas, 25 movies out of a pool of hundreds can’t begin to scratch the surface of all that LGBT cinema has to offer. Hence, we offer you 25 more films to add to your Netflix queue. Call it, The Sequel.

What’s interesting is that in the history of cinema, explicitly queer movies didn’t really venture into the cultural landscape until the mid-’70s, coming to full fruition in the mid-’80s and, especially, ’90s. Yes, there are classics that allude to homosexuality — Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and Rope, Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot — and a handful that are slightly more direct in their queer suppositions — Tennessee Williams’s Suddenly Last Summer, Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour — but gay movies are essentially a 40-year-old phenomenon.

It’s telling — encouraging, even — that two of the films to make this second round weren’t even in release at the time of the first — Lisa Cholodenko’s Oscar-nominated The Kids Are All Right and Tom Ford’s magnificent, visually opulent A Single Man. Queer cinema is evolving — slowly but surely — into a mainstream entertainment, but it’s still one that pushes the envelope and achieves a richness of culture that goes far beyond the norm. Our stories are just that compelling.

We know what’s coming next. And for those of you about to squawk, “Why isn’t The Birdcage on the list?” please note that, while we admire the film, it is exactly the same movie as the far superior La Cage. Including it would have been a redundancy. Ditto for To Wong Foo, which is kind of a lesser Priscilla. We’re ready for the barrage of where’s Fassbinder? Where’s Jarman? Where’s Jeffrey? The Broken Hearts Club? Mambo Italiano? WHERE THE HELL’S EATING OUT 2: SLOPPY SECONDS?!

So to that we answer, with the controlled spin of a garden-variety Hollywood publicist, Just you wait until next year’s:

A SINGLE MAN (2009)

A Single Man
A Single Man

Should anyone decide to compile a collection of the most sexually intense film scenes where absolutely nothing explicitly sexual takes place, it would be impossible not to include the cigarette scene from A Single Man. George Falconer (Colin Firth) has just left the liquor store when he meets Carlos (Jon Kortajarena), a James Dean-esque Latin rentboy who’s hanging out in the parking lot. The two share nothing more than a cigarette, George complimenting Carlos on his good looks and ultimately taking the flirtation no further, but the erotic ache contained in those few minutes of film is palpable. Based on the Christopher Isherwood novel of the same name, A Single Man unspools a single day in the life of George, an English professor living in 1960s Los Angeles. It’s the day George has decided will be his last (and we hasten to add that this is not a spoiler), finally giving in to the depression that has consumed him since his longtime partner was killed in a car accident.

Fashion designer Tom Ford, making his directorial debut, uses his keen eye and polished aesthetic to provide the film an alluring, beautiful richness. It has the finish of an immaculately tailored garment.

AND THE BAND PLAYED ON (1993)

There are times when a film simply needs to be upfront about being didactic — and this dispatch from the early days of the AIDS epidemic is a classic of event-movie didacticism. Adapted from Randy Shilts’s history of the epidemic, And the Band Played On didn’t set out to be a major work of art, unlike its Broadway contemporary, Angels in America. Band was about making the case to America that AIDS mattered — that people who were dying from it mattered, that the hatred unleashed against those who had the disease mattered. The cast reads like a who’s who of Hollywood, including gay and lesbian actors Ian McKellen, Lily Tomlin and B.D. Wong. It’s not a triumph of filmmaking — like any fictionalized documentary, it takes some liberties with facts in order create heroes and villains — but it is an essential cinematic moment for gays and lesbians in America. The saddest thing, in retrospect, is how many of the lessons it wanted to teach have yet to be learned.

ANGELS IN AMERICA (2003)

HBO’s miniseries of the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning Angels in America brought one of the leading pieces of modern gay literature and one of the key pieces of AIDS theater to all of America. Primarily telling the story of Prior Walter (Justin Kirk), a New Yorker diagnosed and then living with HIV/AIDS, the epic tale, which covers the mid-1980s to 1990, spans widely enough to share the stories of a fictionalized Roy Cohn (Al Pacino) and a closeted Mormon lawyer named Joe Pitt (the always-appealing Patrick Wilson). With a cast that received every acting award at both the Golden Globes and the Emmy Awards, the production – led by Pacino and Meryl Streep, but aided significantly by the performances of Jeffrey Wright, Wilson and Mary-Louise Parker – managed to find a home on the small screen that retained the largeness of Tony Kushner’s two-part theatrical magnum opus.

BENT (1997)

Purists may complain that the transition from stage to screen can only come at a price that will devalue the original work. It’s a hard case to make with Bent, with playwright Martin Sherman taking screenplay duty as well. The onscreen product may not offer the shared experience of a live performance, but it still captures beautifully and permanently the story of two gay prisoners at Dachau whose love removes them, in a sense, from their hellish captivity. That’s the heart of Bent, but there is more. Before Dachau, before the ”Night of the Long Knives,” audiences are treated to a surreal interpretation of Berlin’s notorious nightlife. Mick Jagger’s drag persona, Greta, singing the haunting torch song, ”Streets of Berlin” – written by Sherman and Phillip Glass – from her trapeze perch is a breathtaking scene all its own. For a nonfiction lesson in the Nazi persecution of gays, the Paragraph 175 documentary is unsurpassed. For a heartbreaking yet uplifting, fictional exploration of humanity’s extremes, however, watch Clive Owens’s Max and Lothaire Bluteau’s Horst fall in love. And bring tissues. With a setting as grim and violent as the Holocaust, Bent remains one of the most wrenching romantic gay movies of all time.

BIG EDEN(2000)

As its title suggests, Thomas Bezucha’s Big Eden is about a place too perfect to really exist. It’s a romantic comedy for the gay community that is just as implausible and schmaltzy as any in the genre, but it’s not aimed at the 20-something gay community, so it’s refreshingly free of twinks, dance clubs, and tricking. When middle-aged New York artist Henry Hart (Arye Gross) returns to his hometown in Montana to care for his ailing grandfather, he finds more love and acceptance than he ever imagined. The movie’s charm comes from its depiction of unwavering support from everyone in the town — so much support that it starts to defy reality and become a utopia. Framed by beautiful shots of the Western landscape, Henry’s struggle to come out to his family and deal with the unrequited love of his youth is touching while not being overwrought. Strong supporting performances are given by Louise Fletcher, a hysterical Nan Martin as a meddling widow, and Eric Schweig as a lovable, shy convenience store owner. An utterly heartwarming film.

BOUND (1996)

Long before the Wachowski Brothers created their sci-fi leather fetish fantasy The Matrix, and before they tried to sear your eyeballs with the candy-colored mania of Speed Racer, they made this nifty little film about a breathy-voiced, wide-eyed femme and a sultry, tank-topped butch who conspired to steal $2 million from a mobster. At its core, Bound is lesbian noir, taking the standards of mobster films — tough dames, tough talk, tough luck — and upending them by making the tough dames — rather than the men around them — the heroes. Gina Gershon is unbearably sexy as ex-con Corky, who gets involved with a gangster’s wife. And as that wife, Jennifer Tilly made one of her last star turns before her career collapsed into self-parody — her baby-doll delivery of the come-on line, ”I have a tattoo. Would you like to see it?” is both hilarious and intoxicating. Bound is no Claire of the Moon — it has no grand goal for the audience other than entertaining as an old-fashioned crime caper. Not, as they say, that there’s anything wrong with that.

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