Top 12 LGBT Movies You Need To See, as Picked by Film Fest Organizers
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Outfest, L.A.'s gay and lesbian film festival, ended Sunday, reminding us that films about the LGBT experience serve an important role in the community, from teaching teenage boys and girls that it's all right to kiss other boys and girls, respectively, to connecting social activists with images supporting their issues of choice. Despite the occasional non-heterosexual character produced by Hollywood studios, these films tend to remain within the domain of "independent film," a genre rife with multitudes of low-budget projects of varying degrees of quality.
So how do uninitiated viewers choose which LGBT films are worth the time? Ask someone who has watched lots, and lots, of movies.
We turned to the experts: directors and programmers of film festivals around the world, the unsung heroes of the industry who watch countless hours of films. Twenty-three film festival directors and programmers -- including John Cooper, director of Sundance Film Festival, and Jim Carl, who has programmed the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival for the past 15 years -- agreed to participate in our survey, and they received no instructions other than to list their favorite "must-see" films.
This wasn't a competition to discover the most artistically significant or socially relevant works of cinema; the goal was just to recognize the movies that are good. Creating an LGBT-themed film inherently pushes a progressive agenda, but that doesn't matter if people won't watch it.
The process illuminated a collection of films integral to the LGBT experience that cover a comprehensive range of issues, from love and sex to homophobia and AIDS -- films that educate as well as entertain.
Below are the top 12 films from the survey, in no particular order. Now that Outfest is over, it's time to fire up the Blu-ray player.
1. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
Hugo Weaving in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Three drag queens jump on a bus and drive across the Australian Outback, on their way to perform in a casino. Cue the hijinks! Bring on the costumes! On the surface, Priscilla is a comedy featuring men in dresses lip-syncing disco songs, but beyond the sequins and wigs is a touching story about growing up, growing old and, most importantly, friendship and family. This was one of the first major films to portray a transgendered woman, Bernadette Bassinger (played by Terrence Stamp), as a legitimate character; it also broke ground by giving wacky drag queens Mitzi Del Bra (Hugo Weaving) and Felicia Jollygoodfellow (Guy Pearce) the intellectual depth and full emotional range of any other person on screen.
2. Longtime Companion (1989)
Dermot Mulroney in Longtime Companion
Longtime Companion was the first major film to honestly portray the AIDS crisis in the United States, a subject that for years was taboo in the media. At the time, AIDS was known as "gay cancer," and the term "longtime companion" was used in newspaper obituaries when awkwardly referring to the partners of men who died from the disease. The ensemble cast -- including Mary-Louise Parker, Campbell Scott and a young and adorable Dermot Mulroney -- created characters that were sympathetic and interesting, never falling into the traps of asking for pity. "Longtime Companion was not only one of the first mainstream films to deal with AIDS," says Jim Farmer, director of Atlanta's Out on Film, "but it was one of the first mainstream films to portray gay men with such sensitivity and dignity."
3. Paris Is Burning (1990)
Outrageous gowns and flawless beauty could earn you a spot on the dance floor, but it was your attitude that made you a star. Paris Is Burning documented the "underground" world of New York drag balls in the 1980s, a tight-knit gay subculture that was mainly the realm of African-Americans and Latinos. The balls were part escapism from impoverished life, part raucous party, and they became extended families for the contestants who strutted down imaginary fashion runways, reveling in their own glamour. This engrossing documentary captures the spirit of the balls as well as the energy of the performers who compete in them.