Yesterday saw the BFI release it's LGBT film festival line-up for Flare. The film festival will kick off on the 20th of March, showcasing some of the greatest films of homosexuality, trans and more. And as we are rounding down on LGBT week, writer Hayley has picked her top ten gay movies films that you need to watch, looking at the beautiful relationships between man and man.
Weekend is beautiful, honest, and quite frankly, perfect. Our two leads, Tom Cullen and Chris New, meet for a late-night stand. What follows is them slowly, gradually falling for each other, the problem being that one of them is emigrating when the weekend is over. Knowing they have only three days together, we watch their relationship develop, all the while knowing that it's all temporary. It’s not a love at first sight story, but a connection at first sight one, and the two men learn as much about themselves as they do each other. For an astonishing moment of both beauty and heartbreak, look no further than the final scene at the train station.
A Single Man is the haunting, beautiful adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's iconic novella on love and grief. Featuring an impeccable central performance from Colin Firth (in a role much more deserving of an Oscar than The King's Speech, in my opinion) as a man struggling to cope with the death of his partner, torn between empty, suicidal thoughts, and the exuberance for life experienced through Nicholas Hoult's young student. It is an overwhelmingly honest representation of loss, one that crucially would work just as well regardless of the sexuality of the protagonist.
This film accomplishes two incredible feats: first, it features the finest performance from the short-lived talent that was River Phoenix (rivalled maybe by Stand By Me) and it has a genuinely excellent supporting role by Keanu Reeves. Loosely based on Henry IV, My Own Private Idaho is the story of two male hustlers, the quiet, narcoleptic Mike (Phoenix) and the rebellious Scott (Reeves), on the search for Mike’s mother. The connection between the two leads is what drives the emotion of the film, with Mike’s confession of his love for Scott the greatest embodiment of Phoenix’s nuanced skill. Gus Vant Sant’s direction admirably backs this up, with beautiful set design, cinematography, and music choices.
The juggernaut of gay representation in the mainstream, Brokeback Mountain is not without its flaws (the tent scene would have been SO PAINFUL in real life) but still nonetheless deserving of the Oscar it was denied. Featuring captivating performances from Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, with an equally powerful supporting role from Michelle Williams, director Ang Lee takes a subject matter that is still sadly niche, and gives it to the masses. He does this not only through his actors, but through the mountain, a character almost in itself, and one so visually stunning that it’s easy to accept two deeply repressed men falling for each other there.
The most recent film on this list is one I have spoken about on this website before. Steven Sodebergh’s Liberace biopic is lavish, over-the-top, hilarious, and tragic, not unlike the man himself. Michael Douglas shines as Liberace, while Matt Damon impresses in the less showy but more relatable role of Scott Thorson. The biggest disservice of Behind the Candelabra is that the US didn’t deem it worthy of a cinema release. It is unapologetic in its subject matter, while at the same time not alienating to audiences, and hopefully, given its success in the UK, is indicative of a change in attitude in mainstream audiences regarding sexuality.
My Beautiful Laundrette is the story of two men who fall for each other despite cultural divides. Omar is a Muslim, while Johnny belongs to a racist gang. Despite their cultural differences and beliefs, they fall for each other, but thanks to a typically wonderful performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, what could come across as a preachy and artificially “shocking” storyline, actually feels genuine and authentic.
Mysterious Skin is not an enjoyable film, but it is an excellent one. The story of two boys, and how their lives are changed by a horrific assault, is a harrowing, but interesting one. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Neil, who grew up from abuse into a male prostitute, while Brady Corbet is Brian, who has repressed his memories and believes he was in fact abducted by aliens. Mysterious Skin, directed by Gregg Araki, is a disturbing account of psychological harm, anchored by a wonderful performance by Gordon-Levitt as the cocky, assured, but damaged Neil.
Shelter is a beautiful story of love, and the true meaning of family. Zach is an artist, who denies himself the opportunity to go to art school in order to look after his nephew for his neglectful sister. Over the summer, Shaun, the brother of Zach’s best friend, comes to stay, and bond over surfing, art, and caring for Zach’s nephew, eventually falling in love. Zach struggles to reconcile his loyalty to his family with his own ambitions, until Shaun eventually convinces him that it’s possible to have both.
Before Brokeback Mountain came the Oscar-winning Philadelphia. While gay relationships take a back-seat to the main story (Antonio Banderas is perfectly fine as Tom Hanks’ partner, but doesn’t get much to work with), there is another, very important aspect to gay life explored here. In Philadelphia, we are presented with a gay man dying of AIDS, and for once, this man isn’t demonized. In fact, the crux of the plot is Hanks’ character fighting against the discrimination he has faced at his workplace. As always, Hanks is stellar, but as is Denzel Washington in the more difficult role of a lawyer who, while he is against homosexuality, also knows a little about discrimination as a black man, and fights for Hanks’ cause.
A few contenders battled it out for this list, including Pedro Almodovar’s Law of Desire, Shakespeare-based musical Were the World Mine, and Hitchcock’s innovative Rope amongst others. In the end, Beautiful Thing was chosen because, while it is another gay love story, it is set apart by two things: the age of the characters, and the other themes it addresses. As well as young love and exploration of identity, Beautiful Thing is a stark social commentary on poverty, broken homes, and finding connections with people despite differences. It is, in short, a story about growing up, with it’s ending, appropriately, a beautiful thing.