This was incredibly hard, for multiple reasons…and also an abject lesson in torturing myself by thinking that making such lists are a good exercise…they are, they are just much more complicated than anticipated. Really should have seen that element of the process coming.
So, it was hard to decide for multiple reasons.
1. What makes a film a favourite, what raises it above all the films I have seen and enjoyed etc?
2. I have seen a lot of gay films, but there is a hell of a lot that I have never ever seen, so the list is highly susceptible to change as I grow older, have more experience with gay films… basically give myself the time to have seen more. They also change based on my mood at the time asked… so if you ask me in six months time, odds are that some if not all the answers will be different.
In response to the first, I base the decision on enjoyment, whether or not I would re-watch them or even fork out and own them (I’m a true Yorkshire man sometimes ‘I liked it so much I bought it!’). Also, whether or not I would recommend them to others, this last point isn’t a particularly strong one as my circle of friends does not include many people who would be looking out for gay films in the first place, so it’s more of a general, should the opportunity arise, would I then recommend them?
As to the second point, well, it’s actually pretty self explanatory really, why hammer something home? However, on the question of changes to the list in a potential six months, a year or whatever time frame, I should perhaps amend that to point out that four of them are very likely to remain on my list indefinitely, even if I watch hundreds of other films, unless something is particularly ‘wow’ worthy, then they will remain.
Finally, before I launch into the actual point of my self contented ramblings, I should point out that they are in no particular order… at least not intentionally.
1. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café (1991)
The inclusion of this film will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who has either passed through here, or actually knows me directly. Also, the inclusion of it as a gay film might be based on supposition on my part perhaps. To a great many folk they just don’t ‘see’ it; I cannot but help ‘see’ it. Even at 10/11 when I first saw the film I knew, Idgie and Ruth were very much gay for each other. It was blatant and right before my eyes… admittedly that then made the film a bit of a guilty viewing pleasure as I was never sure if my Mom saw it either…I never really spent a great deal of time re-watching it as a young teenager, it was more once I managed to VCR my own copy in my mid teens, and later replace the rather over watched VHS tape with an eventual happy find of the DVD.
This film is also one of my ‘classics’, rather I should be more specific and say the book is one of my classics, so rather than rehash old ground, might I suggest, if you give the remotest toss, taking a glance at the following link for further thoughts and comments on that particular aspect.
And this link is my review of the film, including trailer.
I think that this was the first ‘gay’ film I ever saw and it has thus left a rather lasting impression, given that it is about 17 years ago (give or take). There are a multitude of things I like about this film (I’m going to ignore the book for the purpose of this rambling commentary); I love the strong female characters and life events that strike me as quite realistic and believable.
I like that it has universal appeal, and therefore, given that I think of it as a gay film, reaches a wider and more diverse audience than a normal gay film could possibly hope to attain… yay for subversive film making. However, I dislike that they copped out rather on the Ruth/Idgie relationship in order to garner said wider audience, especially since the book is reasonably blatant… or rather it categorically states that they were in love with each other, but it is left up to the reader to decide whether or not that meant that they were lovers.
I completely fell in love with Ruth, which is in rather stark contrast to any friends I have ever asked who all fell for Idgie without fail. I never got that, I saw myself as Idgie, so why would I then fall for her? Plus I like a nice girl, girl, tomboys are great but don’t turn my crank as much, as it were.
I like the story and the style in which it is told, the fact that it is women lead, though this often means it falls into the ‘chick flick’ category which hacks me off a little. I like that it courts controversy with its themes, that it has multiple layers of meaning; racism, feminism, poverty, abuse, family, love, defence/murder, friendship, food and the law.
Ultimately it’s just a lovely film, a great music score by Thomas Newman (who did the score for another of my favourites, but not in this category; Little Women (1994). Every time I watch it, I get something different from it, or see something that I might not have noticed, I re-watch (and indeed re-read) it quite often, a film to turn to at all opportunities.
2. Imagine me and You (2001)
I truly like that this film is a British Romantic comedy first and foremost and that it is about two women is pretty much incidental. I say this not because I am a particular fan of the RomCom genre, though I admit to liking a few (Four Weddings and a Funeral springs to mind), it is more because the things you gain and avoid by not making it a ‘gay’ film. In this instance, it negates the need for same great coming out trauma which has been done to death and doesn’t interest me, but more importantly it meant that the film gained a much broader audience. Which can only be a good thing really, for by making the ‘gay’ part no big deal and just having it be an integral part of the film as a whole it made it less threatening and more people will have seen it thinking it a straightforward Rom Com. Which it is, just between two women. Isn’t being subversive fun like that.
The film is subtle in its dealings and messages whilst making no apology for being about two women, it is not fussy abut the subject, in that way it is very eponymously British.
The cast is fantastic right across the board; you have Anthony Head, Celia Imrie and Sue Johnston as supporting characters, which naturally leads to some very witty lines and general delivery. Boo… who plays Rachel’s sister has an utterly fantastic role, slightly off the wall but implicitly childlike and genuine in her need to have the questions of the world answered, such as; ‘Do Penguins have knees?’
Piper Perabo puts up an excellent show with a wholly believable, if ever so slightly stilted, British accent (think the believability of Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones Diary) and Lena Headey as the Florist who is Perabo’s love interest is just fantastic.
I saw this film at Milton Keynes Central cinema; I travelled from Leeds to see it. Okay, whilst that is absolutely strictly true, I have family in MKC so it wasn’t a particularly unusual thing for me to do for the sake of a film. However, the limited release meant that that was actually my most viable option if I wanted to see it at the cinema. I can categorically say that it was absolutely worth it. When it came out on DVD I pretty much straight away bought the film.
On the subject of it’s versatility of audience, I should point out the amount of straight friends I know who like it, indeed I recently bought it for my best friends birthday, who has watched it almost as much as I have.
I love that the plot of the film and the leads burgeoning relationship moves at a wholly believable pace, with very natural progression which is unforced, the leads have great chemistry and the film overall is very funny though it has it’s pathos also, lest you get concerned about the potential ‘sugar intake’.
Every time I watch this film I feel more and more for poor Heck, Rachel’s husband. The poor misguided yet lovely man is actually the instigator of the women’s relationship as he keeps pushing them together; irony is kind of ironic like that. Also he gets one of the best lines about jam; his jam will rock your world… if he ever makes it of course.
It is a really beautiful, understated and unassuming film, a real pleasure to watch and to re-watch.
3. But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
This is the first film I saw at the Liverpool LGBT film festival, way back in 2001, me and two other people in the whole cinema, two days later I took my friend to see it. It is absolutely hilarious and well worth watching, in fact if you haven’t seen it, then why the heck not? Go, go forth and watch it.
This film is both incredibly funny due to it’s high camp and poking fun at clichés nature, but equally it is quite scary if you stop for a moment to consider that the True Directions make them straight camp is based on the actuality of those camps existence. Some people are so desperate for their kids to be what they can understand that they will try to force them to be something that they are not.
It plays on the stereotypes within gay and ‘straight’ society, so each character is a representative of that, also upon the male/female roles, attempting to maintain an utterly bizarre delineation of what constitutes maleness/femaleness, to the point that the camp itself is decorated in lurid shades of blue and pink. I find it amusing that whilst it might be an attempt by the camp director to illustrate the separate gender barriers, that due to the high proportion of vinyl/leather interior design it all comes across rather more like a carnival (because of the colour scheme, not because Carnivals have fetish shows) fetish show than anything else.
I love that it took the ‘High camp’ route, it makes the difficult elements, such as the idea you can brainwash your kids into being something other than who they are, easier to deal with. It also makes it easier to laugh at the ludicrous rather than get frustrated at the injustice of the reality of this situation. Equally this film is having a damned good laugh at the conservative right wing portions of society who believe that these scenarios work. It’s refreshing to see something at there expense for once.
4. The World Unseen (2009)
Basically I love this film for many reasons, but because I have already reviewed it, I will simply make mention of some of the reasons and then point folk in the direction of the review via that nifty little blue link below.
This link is my review of the film, including trailer.
I love this film, despite of its clichés and the fact hat it is illustrating nothing really that is new or innovative. It is slow paced and steady, reflecting the culture it is representing I think. That is not to say it is dull or boring, far from it. The characters are engaging and you want to know where their stories are going, there are no uninteresting characters.
The story of the two main characters, and indeed those of the periphery characters also, are told in an unforced and quite realistic way, with no simple answers or conclusions but plenty of room for thought and development after the film has ended.
The basic premise is a love story between two women within the Indian society during 1950’s Apartheid, South Africa. The secondary characters story is that of coloured/white relations within the same society. It should be said that the latter of the two is not nearly as well dealt with as it is in the book… which I really recommend, the book “The World Unseen” – Shamim Sarif, is beautiful and a truly engaging read.
In one sense, almost nothing happens for the two women; on the other an awful lot happens it just might not be all that obvious. The film is more a glance at chances that might be taken and about defying authority figures in the name of personal choices and being who you want to be, even in the face of such forceful opposition.
The film is a wholly non-threatening view of all of these controversial issues, maintaining its dignity and integrity to the story throughout. I love that it is not focused on the physical relations between the two women, whilst that would have been great it would have gone against the character of Miriam, it would have been just wrong for her and wholly unbelievable. I liked the development and the evidence of where it just might lead to.
It is a classy film depicting the era and the people trying to survive and be true to themselves throughout it.
5. The Children’s Hour (1961)
As with the above film, this is one I have reviewed before, so rather than rehash the majority of that, I have done as I did with The World Unseen and put in a link for the original review I wrote
This link is my review of the film, including trailer
The sheer futility and degradation of the characters in this film make me cry, both in sadness and sheer frustration at the ignorance of the time and of the lack of understanding exhibited by the people making the film. Additionally, that some people still feel the same as Martha did, about themselves, that they are ashamed of who they are. I cannot understand hating yourself like that, not being able to reconcile your mind with who you are must be truly horrific.
This is probably the second gay film I ever saw, and it was purely coincidental, I believe it was just on television one day when I happened to tune in, which is an odd coincidence as I have never been a particularly great television watcher. It was a little distressing for me to see something that was so utterly not positive about its subject matter, but then I was one of the lucky ones I suppose, I never felt that it was representational of how my life might be, so I let that element not bother me, barring feeling sad for Martha.
The film has a hard time standing up in more recent times, it is very melodramatic and therefore very much of the era in which it was filmed. Yet it is iconic and we can learn from it in multiple ways, not letting lies lead your decisions, not judging people, supporting them in times of hardship etc.
Despite all of this and despite the fact that I really like the film, I cannot help but wish that it had been better and more understandingly made.
6. Between two women (2000)
A wonderful, slow paced film set in a 1950’s Yorkshire Mill town. It is a gentle balance of discovery, both of self and your place in the world around you, throughout the whole film nothing overtly happens but the intentions are clear.
It is about the changing of attitudes and perceptions, the knowledge of self and desires. It is very calm and relaxed yet that never takes away from the empathy with the main character and her thought processes and developments.
Overall the film is very English, no-one else could have made a film quite like this, it is also verging on artsy, but not in an inexplicable no longer makes sense way, just the style is very anti-blockbuster, big budget film making.
I love the precise attention paid to period detail and that the cast is small and very understated and thus realistic in their delivery.
A truly lovely, Sunday afternoon feel of a film.
7. DEBS (2005)
This is a truly hilarious and very camp, spoof of a film, mocking spy films, teenage girl types and villains everywhere, where spies are chosen via the secret questions hidden within the SATS. It is based on a short film made by the same director, though only the character (and the actress who plays her), Janet remains from the original.
It is a story ostensibly about loving someone on the wrong ‘side’, in the case of the law, though generally it emerges that the ‘villain’ is more misunderstood than evil. Amy is the poster chid for the DEBS, having scored the best imaginable on the SATS spy test, Lucy is the ‘baddie’ whom the DEBS are charged with trying to capture. When Lucy and Amy run into each other (literally), sparks fly and interest, at least on one side to start with, is definitely sparked. Apparently a lot of girls like the ‘bad boy’ image, or in this case ‘bad girl’.
All of the characters play on a variety of clichés within the genres of spies and schoolgirls, yet they are all three dimensional representations of those clichés. It is a film full of misunderstandings in typical farce fashion; thinking that Lucy has kidnapped Amy, the scene in the restaurant where the spies thought they were infiltrating a top secret plan of some sort only to find that Lucy is on a blind date with a rather hilarious Russian spy.
Overall the film is pretty predictable; you know the good girl and the bad will meet, know that they will fall for each other, hijinks will ensue and that there will probably be a happy ending. This is by no means a bad thing, in this instance it is done well and fits in with the genre the film is basing itself within. Predictable it might often be, but dull it most certainly isn’t.
You have visual humour, such as the DEBS and their plaid/tartan… wit through language and scenario. All in all a must see, purely for hilarities sake if you fail to appreciate anything else about this film. Also whilst it might seem glaringly over the top it does have some subtlety and its ability to play it straight on occasion, usually when it actually matters.
8. Rent (2005)
This is one of those films that really surprised me; it has quite hard hitting subjects at its centre yet never falls into the pit of despair or serious melancholy. Yes it is inexorably sad at times, but the bad stuff doesn’t even make up half of the film.
This film was made in the year of the original Broadway shows 10th anniversary; it has the majority of the original cast, barring the introduction of Rosario Dawson as Mimi and Tracie Thom as Joanne.
I came to the film knowing absolutely nothing about Rent, I’m from the UK, the stage show; Rent just never made it over here before the film was made, so I had no concept of what it was about or anything like that… in fact on first viewing I didn’t even know it was a musical, I just though Mark was weird and doing a Yentl by having a monologue song whilst riding home on his bike… in fact it was until the next number where the whole block is refusing to pay their rent that I twigged… and I was hooked. This was also my introduction to ‘green girl’, though I prefer her as ‘green girl’.
On the one hand it is a lot of fun to watch, yet it is equally a serious and engaging view of semi-poverty and the lives of those in that environment, not to mention the fact that half of the people are HIV positive.
I have yet to meet anyone who has not loved this film after watching it many of whom almost scoffed or at the very least were indifferent to the idea of the film in the first place.
Finally, I made a mistake of introducing three of my friends to this film using the excuse of food as a starting point, in retrospect perhaps it was the fact that I chose pie, but all three of them seem to feel that ‘Pie and Rent’ are now synonymous and put up a ruckus if we watch it and don’t have pie. I feel I am entirely at fault in creating this somewhat Pavlovian response, but it was all in a good cause. Just a word to the wise is all.
9. When night is Falling (1995)
This film had me hooked from the every beginning, despite its slightly meandering pace; it doesn’t mean that the film is slow plot wise; more that it is simply taking the time to realistically explore its themes. This is also the film that led me on a spate of watching a lot of Pascale Bussiéres films, for she is awesome; she is very understated yet excellent as the unsure Camille.
This film surprised me as it was unlike anything I was expecting, I borrowed it from work and watched it two or three times and then kept borrowing it every couple of months or so, as the urge struck me. A beautiful Canadian film by Patricia Rozema, who made “I’ve heard the Mermaids singing” (the only other film of hers that I had watched up to this point) which I did not like (not the style, plot, acting or anything) I was happily surprised to see that this one made sense and was engaging, as were the characters.
It has at its heart not just a love story of discovery between two women, but also incorporates some discussion (though not particularly intensely) about religion and homosexuality. It’s about the meeting of two utterly disparate characters; free spirited, circus performer Petra and uptight, seemingly conservative teacher at a religious school Camille. Both characters are learning how to be with the other despite there differences of attitudes and opinions.
It is a truly lovely film, predominantly good acting, an interesting plot and character development, well worth watching.