Much ado is being made about Oscar nominations for Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena. Dallas Buyers Club is a well-made film, but the main character was controversially reimagined as a homophobe who used queer people as a niche market. He is a depicted as precursor for any number of corporations who appear queer friendly but are giving millions of dollars to Political Action Committees that fund anti-LGBT issues. As for its critique of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the medical establishment, watch the far superior documentary How to Survive a Plague (2012) by David France.
Philomena is a much better film with an exquisite performance by Dame Judi Dench. The queer content with a touch of reality-based dialoge about bisexuality is portrayed with astonishing insight and sensitivity so the film doesn’t dissolve into maudlin histrionics.
Kill Your Darlings by openly gay director John Krokidas did not get any love this awards season. Maybe the film left people wondering why it focuses on the most lurid chapter in the life of the great poet Allen Ginsberg. And Harry Potter’s – er, Daniel Radcliffe’s – infamous gay sex scene is quite forgettable. Blue is the Warmest Color has already generated enough debate to leave everyone in an exhausted heap although it is my choice for Best Actress (Adèle Exarchopoulos).
If we had an Academy Award for LGBT films, the following would easily qualify for a Best Picture nomination*.
Bruno & Earlene Go to Vegas (dir. Simon Savory; gay, bisexual and transgender content): It’s billed as Thelma & Louise meets Bagdad Café meets Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. But it is much more than that. It is the story of a beautiful friendship between outcasts Bruno (Miles Szanto) and Earlene (Ashleigh Sumner) who set out on a zany road trip. It’s a fun, funny, and poignant film that deals with sexuality in a manner not found in any mainstream film with solid performances by the entire cast. This film is my pick for Best Cinematography (Eben Bolter), Best Production Design (Rachel Earnest), and Best Original Score (Paul Gala).
The Happy Sad (dir. Rodney Evans; straight, gay and polyamorous content): this is one of the best polyamorous films whose beauty lies in its imperfection and its audacity to make you uncomfortable. It is my pick for awards sweep: Best Picture, Best Director (Rodney Evans), Best Screenplay (Ken Urban), and Best Ensemble Cast (Leroy McClain, Sorel Carradine, Charlie Barnett, Cameron Scoggins, and Maria Dizzia).
The Last Match (La Partida, dir. Antonio Hens; gay and some bisexual content): A stunning and powerful drama of star-crossed love between Reinier (Reinier Díaz) and Yosvani (Milton García) who struggle to survive a difficult life in a poverty-stricken society, while keeping secret a love that could be fatal for both of them. An intensely candid look at the underground queer scene in Havana, Cuba, this is my pick for Best Supporting Actor for García’s heart-breaking performance.
Pit Stop (dir. Yen Tan; gay and bisexual content): This film thoughtfully illuminates the complex and challenging lives of gay and bisexual people living in the remote reaches of small-town America. It is also one of the best queer films to explore the impact of loss as in the end of a relationship and the loss of a loved one. Some have complained about the languorous pacing but it suits the film’s deeply personal subject matter. This is my pick for Best Actor (Bill Heck) and Best Supporting Actress (Amy Seimetz).
Stranger By The Lake (L’inconnu du lac; dir. Alain Guiraudie; gay content with copious amounts of full-fledged nudity): Ah, the French! This is the male companion to Blue is the Warmest Color. Equally controversial and maddening in its finger wagging morality, this film takes place over one summer when Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) explores a sexual relationship with the mysterious Michel (Christophe Paou) that becomes a deadly game of deception, prowess and provocation. Executed with Hitchcockian precision and suspense, it won the Queer Palm and Best Director awards at Cannes Film Festival. It’s my pick only for Best Editing (Jean-Christophe Hym) but do see it if you can find it. The film will linger in your mind and generate lively conversations.
More than anything, 2013 was filled with some of the most intriguing, provocative, and entertaining documentaries on LGBT themes like Al Nisa: Black Muslim Women in Atlanta’s Gay Mecca about a group of Atlanta-based women on being black, female, Muslim, and lesbian; Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton (bisexual content) about artist, activist, and filmmaker Broughton; Born This Way about the challenges faced by LGBT people in Cameroon; I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole (bisexual content) about accomplished Broadway dancer and choreographer Poole pushing boundaries of art, sexuality, and musical comedy; Lesbiana: A Parallel Movement about the feminist movement of the 1970s of writers, philosophers, and activists who chose community with only other women; Mr. Angel about an extremely controversial transgender advocate, educator, and porn pioneer Buck Angel; and The New Black about how some people felt the same-sex marriage debate divided African-Americans during Maryland’s ballot initiative campaign in 2012.
My pick for Best Documentary and Best Costume Design is One Zero One: The Story of Cybersissy & BayBJane. A bizarre, fascinating, and gorgeous exploration of friendship between two drag queens totally opposite in character and desire, One Zero One captures your heart by revealing one jaw-dropping aspect after another about the secrets Cybersissy and BayBJane carry through their lives and still manage to survive as the world’s most avant-garde performers.
Bet your money on these, and other, LGBT films. It would take twenty Dallas Buyers Club to measure up to the style, substance, courage, and entertainment value of these films.
*As of this writing I have not yet seen three of the most controversial and critically acclaimed LGBT films of 2013: Chitrangada (dir. Rituparno Ghosh, India), Concussion (dir. Stacie Passon, Germany), and Tom at the Farm (dir. Xavier Dolan, UK) and therefore not included them in this review.