My Thursday lists for the rest of March are all related to the significance of Moonlight winning this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture. Last week, I looked at the best films with mostly African American casts. Moonlight was also the first LGBT-themed to ever win that award, so here are the best LGBT films made before Moonlight.
10. The Kids Are All Right (2010)
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore have such honesty and warmth in the portrayal of the ups and down of a lesbian couple raising a family. Watching them navigate the difficult journey of their children’s desire to know their biological father feels often like we’re peering into the private lives of real people, meaning it’s a very enlightening though uncomfortable and often very funny watch.
9. Far from Heaven (2002)
Director Todd Haynes brilliantly uses the conventions of the 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk to tell a story of a “traditional” 1950s family dealing with a not-s0-traditional dilemma. As we see the family’s patriarch (Dennis Quaid) questioning his sexuality and his wife (Julianne Moore) trying to make sense out of the situation, all the language used to describe homosexuality is what would’ve been spoken in the 50s. The movie takes us deeply into the mindset of 1950s America so that we can understand and feel what it’s characters are going through.
8. Gods and Monsters (1997)
Ian McKellan gave his best performance to date (sorry, I love Gandolf too, but he’s better here) playing James Whale, the director of 1931’s Frankenstein and it’s sequel Bride of Frankenstein. Gods and Monsters shows how the sequel (which includes the line “to a new world of gods and monsters”) is a reflection of James Whales’s own life and sexuality.
7. La Cage aux Folles (1978)
In one of the funniest movies ever made, Renato (Ugo Tognazzi) and Albin (Michel Serrault) try to force themselves back in the closet to help Renato’s son when they are about to meet the family of Renato’s son’s fiancee, members of France’s right-wing council of moral order.
6. Dallas Buyers’ Club (2013)
In the true story of a homophobic, narcissistic AIDS victim (Matthew McConaughey) whose only way of prolonging his life is forming an illegal trafficking organization that spreads unapproved experimental medications to to American AIDS victim. In order to meet his own needs, he has to partner with a transvestite (Jared Leto), face his own prejudices, and learn to care about the needs of others.
5. Cabaret (1972)
Bob Fosse’s great musical parallels the decedent Berlin night-club scene of the 1930s with the rise of the Nazi party. The relationship between Brian (Michael York) and Maximilian (Helmut Griem) involves resistance against both of these worlds that are so strongly against them.
4. Milk (2008)
Sean Penn gave one of the greatest acting performances of all time as the first openly gay person elected to office in the U.S. The biopic is an enthralling work of art that covers every aspect of the man’s life and how they all fit together in his role as District Supervisor in San Francisco.
3. The Children’s Hour (1961)
At a girl’s school, a child creates a stir with a devastating rumor. She misunderstands what she sees and starts a story from that misunderstanding that two of her teachers are lesbians. The rumor threatens the careers of the teachers, the heterosexual relationship that Karen (Audrey Hepburn) is in, and Martha’s sanity (Shirley McClaine). Martha’s sanity is attacked because the situation forces her to deal with the feelings she’s held dormant within herself her whole life until the rumor.
2. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Willing to go to any length to pay for his partner’s sex-change operation, Sonny (Al Pacino) turns to crime. The bank robbery is based on actual crime, and the film shows it almost in real-time but always clarifying Sonny’s motivation for his criminal activity.
1. Rebel without a Cause (1955)
In 1955 Hollywood, homosexuality couldn’t be named in film, but the character of Plato (Sal Mineo) in Rebel was as obvious as they could get without calling him gay or depicting a romance between him and another man. His attraction to Jim (James Dean) is obvious believable. Who he believed himself to be was rebellious against what his society wanted him to be (I think the title refers to him and not to the lead character Jim, since Jim finds a cause for his life in part because of Plato). Plato’s fight between his view of reality and that of others around him is tragic and Sal Mineo’s performance is perfect in dealing with these difficult issues at a time when they were not allowed to even be talked about.