Where to begin with the schizophrenic year in movies when it comes to LGBT cinema?
One viewminewould see 2015 as a triumphant onefrom Tangerine to Bessie to Grandma to Guidance to Freeheld to The Danish Girl and finally to the forthcoming Carol. The other would tag many of these same films as old-fashioned, out of step, not inclusive enough, politically incorrect. The flashpoint movie clearly was Stonewall, which drew nearly universal derision before the film was even released. When the movie briefly opened in late Septemberattended by scattered protests after all the brouhaha over the trailer died downit received damning reviews and scant box office. Did it deserve its fate? Read on.
This year's first quarter was mostly filled with movies from the previous year's LGBTQ film festivals finally arriving on VOD, on DVD or, in Chicago's case, in the increasingly rare theatrical run. These included Boy Meets Girl, First Period, The Circle and She's Beautiful When She's Angry. Late spring brought Bessie on HBO, from out writer-director Dee Reesa chronicle of bisexual blues legend Bessie Smith's short, tempestuous life. Containing star Queen Latifah's bravest performance, the film didn't stint on her love affairs with women.
Summer brought the bracing Tangerine, the story of two trans hookers and best friends bitching each other out as they criss-cross L.A. one memorable Christmas Eve. The lesbian standup comic Tig Notaro brought new depth to her career with the release of Tig, which documented her journey back from a cancer diagnosis. David Thorpe's Do I Sound Gay? was a sometimes amusing look at the little examined stereotype that has plagued gay men since time immemorial, while Back on Board: Greg Louganis elicited the Olympic medalist's story in unvarnished detail that was rather eye-opening. French Canadian queer auteur Xavier Dolan's darkly homoerotic homage to Hitchcock thrillers, Tom at the Farm, was gleefully twisted. Lastly, for the first time since making their queer classic Gods & Monsters, director Bill Condon teamed with actor Ian McKellen on Mr. Holmes, a reflective look at the last days of the great, fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, who many have long assumed to be gay.
All these offered respite from the usual spate of gut-busting blockbuster action pictures, although one of themMad Max: Fury Roadhas ended up being my favorite "straight" movie of the year. This non-stop pure adrenaline rush also included a not-so-subtle feminist undertone ( and, yeah, homoerotic stuff, too ) that made it all that much more invigorating. As daring as Mad Max seemed to be in the audacity department, it was topped by Paul Weitz's Grandmaan unapologetic comedy about abortion, feminism, lesbianism and the joys of strong women kicking ass. Lesbian icon Lily Tomlin gave one of the year's best performances in the title role, continuing a career resurgence that began earlier in the year with her reteaming with her 9 to 5 co-star Jane Fonda in the Netflix sitcom Grace & Frankie, which also featured gay themes.
So far so goodwith the promise of a great fall and awards season as 2015 came to a close. And thenwham!the Stonewall trailer dropped. The trailer revealed that writer Jon Robin Baitz and disaster-movie specialist Roland Emmerichboth gayhad taken the Stonewall Riots, the seminal moment in LGBT history and placed a fictional character named Danny Winters ( a white cisgender one, to boot ) at the heart of the story. Although this device of placing a fictional character at the center of historical events has been done to a zillion other movies before and since ( Suffragette is a recent example ), the outcry over this was enormous. Where were the non-white, non-fictional drag queens who many historians claimed ( though not all ) had ignited the riots in the first place? Both Emmerich and Baitz tried to contain the damage, as did the stars of the filmto no avail. Protests were organized that decried the movie before it screened, but quickly died out upon the film's release to dreadful reviews and box-office receipts.
Stonewall didn't deserve its fate. Although it did trot out a lot of the usual stereotypes, it also got a lot of its history right, started a national conversation about the historic riots and was no better or worse than a lot of other queer-themed movies I could name ( including the 1995 version of the same events ). But the film was also given a misleading title ( a more accurate one might have been "Danny's Story" ), its coming-out story felt like it came 20 years too late and filming the movie on what were clearly studio sets had a distancing effect that didn't help. Stonewall really does seem like a gay, quasi-Wizard of Oz.
The Stonewall fracas ( which I think is partially to blame for About Ray being pulled from release ) now behind us, we have arrived at awards season with terrific contenders. The intelligent and searing Spotlight, which about the Boston Globe's reporting of the priest sex-abuse scandal, features several strong gay characters. Tom Hooper's The Danish Girl, the biopic about a trans pioneer, is poured through the old-fashioned romantic studio mode and may net star Eddie Redmayne another Oscar. Finally, there's Carol, Todd Haynes' long-awaited film adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith's lesbian-themed novel. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as the lovers are, well, cinematic perfection. ( More on the film will be revealed when it opens here at the end of the month. ) When it comes to Carol, Chicago is, indeed, getting the best for last.
Other noteworthy LGBT films of 2015Freeheld, Guidance, I Am Michael, Henry Gamble's Birthday Party, The Year We Thought About Love, Nasty Baby, Tab Hunter Confidential, Boulevard and Larry Kramer: In Love & Angerwere seen by Chicago audiences on VOD; at festival screenings such as Reeling ( of which, in terms of transparency, I am the co-programmer ), the Chicago International Film Festival, Black Alphabet and others; or, as noted, in rare theatrical runs at the Music Box, the Siskel or Facets. They can be expected to show up again throughout the first quarter of 2016.
I realize that there's a lot of the old "you say tomato, I say toe-mah-toe" cliche inherent in any discussion of queer cinema todayas in just about every aspect of queer culturebut that's also what makes this such an exciting time for the genre. The bottom line is that cinema in 2015 was infused with plenty of high-profile movies showcasing Our Peopleand here's hoping 2016 is filled with many more.
Until then, here's my list of the Top 10 LGBT Movies for 2015 ( in preferential order ). I'd like to point outas alwaysthat my "best of" list tends to shift around with repeat viewings and reconsiderationsas I'm sure yours does.
3. The Danish Girl
5. Nasty Baby
9. Henry Gamble's Birthday Party
10. Tom at the Farm