I maybe haven't seen all that many gay flicks (I've started watching a few but couldn't make it through). I just can't stomach the crappy acting, shoddy cinematography, and hideous scripts of most homo movies I've seen parts of. I'm not a total movie snob, and I can forgive some shortcomings for a good story, but I won't pretend to enjoy a film just because it's supposedly about "people like me", whether homo, Mormon, American, brunet, acne-prone, whatever.
But I do have a list of movies I've really liked that have significant or primary gay themes or characters in them, so without further ado, and for the few of you who give a rip about O-Mo's movie recommendations (all two of you), here's the list:
Maurice - one of the first gay-themed movies I saw. Confession time: if I remember right, I originally watched it because it was a Merchant Ivory film of an E.M. Forster novel, the same combo which created A Room With a View, which caught my attention one day on Bravo because of its infamous skinny dipping scene, and I thought maybe they'd have more eye candy in Maurice as well. ...they did. So be advised: you do see floppy bits in the unedited version (rated R). But I originally saw it edited on Bravo. BUT the story is an interesting one and well done, and I don't think any of the nudity is during sex scenes, if that makes any difference to you. The part that initially stood out to me is the scene in which they first touch romantically, and as I watched, I felt a surge of electricity through me as I watched them making that connection for the first time, and I longed for that touch. I thought surely this was a confused and distorted emotion I shouldn't be feeling or a perversion of a desire to be accepted by men (yes, I came up with "reparative"-like conceptions as early as I was feeling attracted to members of the same sex, but that's...you guessed it...another post). As such, I pushed away the feeling. But I never forgot it.
For the (completely innocent) part I mentioned, watch from time stamp 3:10 to 3:21
Brokeback Mountain - I initially refused to see this (the R rating and the hype from the gay activism crowd turned me off), so I instead read the short story it's based on, which was, at the time, available for free online. The story was probably new and groundbreaking to people who hadn't personally dealt with homosexuality much before, but I found the language bland and the characters completely unsympathetic. I finally caved and watched the movie when my roommates were putting it on one night, and I liked the movie a lot more. The characters, though still dirtbags in their own right, were more sympathetic, their pressures and reasons for being dirtbags to their wives more nuanced, and the acting was really well done. Aside from the unwelcome and mildly upsetting boob shots, I liked the movie.
Milk - this is one I own. I really liked this movie. I don't agree with all of Harvey Milk's perspective or decisions, but the movie tells a story I think many people would benefit from watching, and it tells it very well. I like that it doesn't glorify Milk but portrays him as a man who saw a need and worked for the cause. One message I wish people would take away from it is that the gay rights movement isn't just about shoving sexuality in people's faces or validating sexual preferences: it's truly about equality and justice in the minds of most who pursue them. Anyway, I've watched this one several times. And James Franco doesn't hurt anything, either.
Another Country - I've just reviewed it. I'll say no more.
The Talented Mr. Ripley - Compelling cautionary story, powerful acting from an all-star cast (Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cate Blanchett), riveting suspense, well-developed characters, disturbing but fascinating psychology, great cinematography and a beautiful setting all contribute to my cautious love for this movie. It's so hard to watch in parts when you're hoping against hope for the redemption of the unexpected protagonist...but it's such a beautifully told tragedy...and definitely one of the best-made movies in this list. I even have a friend who shows it to groups of friends with pauses for discussion because there are so many lessons, both subtle and less subtle, to be learned from the story. (Oh, and I have this one edited, if any of you who know me want to watch it.)
The Hours - Solid acting, interesting premise, sensitive and familiar treatment...Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman (as a brunette with a prosthetic nose acting as Virginia Woolf)? Can't hate that.
Fried Green Tomatoes - Don't even try to deny it has homoromantic overtones between the female leads. If you missed it, watch it again. You'll see. But that's just part of the story. I actually haven't watched this in over a decade, but I liked it as a teenager. :-)
The Celluloid Closet - Interesting expose on the history of homosexuality (or, as I say, homoromanticism) in film. You might be surprised at some of the connections. I think some of them are a bit of a stretch and examined through today's modern hyper-sexual lens, but it's still interesting. And it's narrated by Lily Tomlin, which was a selling point for me.
The Family Stone - I also own this one. And I love love love this movie. Love it. The only gay thing about it is the gay son and his partner and adopted baby. Some people notice, to their relief or chagrin or celebration, that the gay couple is the most "normal", stable couple in the movie. I just love the movie and the fact that the whole "gay" thing is just another part of the family's dynamic.
Far from Heaven - emotive performances from the leads and a story about a middle class suburban family struggling to deal with issues that are social no-nos in the 1950s (homosexuality, divorce, interracial relationships) make this one stand out for me. Also, it's the first role I really like Julianne Moore in. She is also in The Hours.
Bent - I hesitate to recommend this one because of some of its content. Had I known in advance the extent of the content, I probably wouldn't have watched it unedited. But the story drew me in, and I watched it while skipping the crude stuff, particularly what I regard as a completely unnecessary portrayal of the decadence of Berlin at the beginning of the movie--the rest of the movie was much tamer than that initial shock-and-awe I saw a glimpse of. I think it's available in two versions: one NC-17 uncut and an R-rated version. For those of you not sure about or opposed to watching R-rated movies, skip this one. If you can watch it edited somehow, though, I recommend that, because it really does beg some interesting questions. Regardless of the version, if you're not comfortable with strong, crude sexuality and nudity (as I'm not), but want to watch it for the story, either see the play it's based on or skip the sexually explicit material on the video. In my opinion, it's totally superfluous. I didn't feel like I missed anything. The dark psychology of going through something as trying as World War II and the disturbing concentration camp scenes are thought-provoking "what if" scenarios that make you really question what you would do in a given situation, where you would draw your strength from, and whether you would allow survival to override humanity. The lead (Clive Owen) keeps you guessing as to whether he'll find his own humanity right up to the end. It stars quite a cast (including Ian McKellen, whom I really like). I probably won't watch it again, to be honest, because parts of it really were a bit too "R" for my taste, but it was moving.
Brideshead Revisited - I've only seen the recent film, not the British TV series. I really liked this movie. Emma Thompson is always golden, and Matthew Goode is one of my celebrity crushes ever since I saw his beautiful beautiful self in a supporting role in Match Point (a movie I did NOT like, despite loving him and Emily Mortimer, because it never really went anywhere and ended terribly...it's a Woody Allen film, I suppose I should've known). But more than that, I really identified with the conflicts in the movie and appreciated the tension from the questions raised, the relationships forged, and the moral, ethical, and religious conundrums encountered. I did get the feeling I was rushed through the last quarter of the story and felt a bit puzzled by the ending, wondering what the creators of the film were trying to convey, but I live ambiguity, so a puzzling ending intrigues me, as long as it's not too "what the H?" I'm a sucker for a tease sometimes. Anyway, the British TV series is coming up in my Netflix queue, so I'm looking forward to comparing it and seeing if it expounds on some of the issues I thought might have been brushed over more than they were in the novel it's based on.
Philadelphia - I know it's probably cliche to like this movie, but I do. I thought Tom Hanks did an outstanding job in his role, and the story of a man fighting for his rights and his life is gripping. It's truly a story not so much about homosexuality as humanity and respect.
I may have forgotten some, but a couple which are notably and intentionally absent from my list are:
Latter Days - I finally caved and watched this just a short while ago with a female friend, and we couldn't help but laugh a little at the poorly delivered/poorly written lines and the after-school-special-style cinematography. I mean sure, the leads' bods are hot hot hot, but that doesn't quite compensate for the campy dialog and seriously slanted/selective (despite being occasionally somewhat accurate) portrayal of LDS culture. We got halfway through when she had to leave. I looked at her and asked if she was going to want to finish it. A sheepish grin spread across her face as she said, "I kind of care about them now and want to see what happens." We finished it later. So yes, I guess there was something to like about it, and it did have a message, even a positive message or three. And I guess it does provide a glimpse into the conflicts of a gay LDS guy, particularly through the lens of a 19-or-20-year-old, and a not-so-very-independently-thinking one, at that. But despite being made probably fairly well for what I imagine was a very small budget, it's just...so...gay-movie-ish that I can't recommend it. Well, that and the fact that the crude dialog really is excessive, and the opening scene of sexuality is explicit.
Angels in America - I discovered this on TV when we had a trial of all channels under the sun, and it captured my attention before I realized it was the movie adaptation of the play a friend had told me about a couple of years prior. It's intriguing, and it challenges paradigms, and I wanted to like it. But I didn't. Don't get me wrong, it was funny, sad, dramatic, witty, and...extremely grating and abrasive and heavy-handed and preachy and biased and darkly negative. Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Mary-Louise Parker, and Al Pacino combined couldn't make me actually like this movie. It was just too much of an axe to grind, too gawdy, too irrational. Patrick Wilson was quite attractive, I'll give it that, but that may be the main reason I waded through most of the movie, off and on, wincing at the crude language and rolling my eyes at the overbearing script. This movie is actually "well done" except for the story itself.