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The Best Queer Movies of 2011

Locally directed 'We Were Here' chronicles the early days of the AIDS crisis.

YES!

I saw a lot of movies in 2011. At first, I was inclined to make this list before the New Year. In retrospect, I’m glad that I waited, because my list would have been different, and slightly disappointing to me now.

Reviewing gay movies can be a challenging task. Sometimes, you want to take them “with a grain of salt.” In a perfect world, we’d be applying the same criticism to queer film as any other type of film. I can confidently say, that this list of movies comes without any frustration, and I’d hold up each and every one of them against any mainstream or non-queer content film.  This was a bold and exciting year for queer cinema!

Lastly, I know it can be difficult to put movies into a ranking order. I appreciate that many things about film are subjective, but personally, I love the build up to #1 Queer Film of the Year! So, here we go… in some particular order…

#5 – Beginners

This movie, starring Ewan McGregor as Oliver, and Christopher Plummer as his father Hans, was so much better than I expected it to be. Directed by Mike Mills, who’s married to none other than Miranda July, Beginners is a surprisingly touching film about change and acceptance.

It’s the story of an elderly man, Hans, coming out of the closet after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. His son, Oliver, struggles to pursue love for himself, while managing his obvious pain over his father’s disease.

Surprisingly, this movie retains lightness even with such dark themes. Also, there’s no battle with homophobia between father and son. I’m not saying that would have ruined the movie, but I’m more than a little over films that can’t move past the queer issue. People come out all the time, and it doesn’t always go horribly.

You’ll love Christopher Plummer dancing about the screen embracing his new joie de vivre with a whimsical younger boyfriend. It’s adorable, and hits home. My grandfather came out very late in life, and it was as though he was reborn as a 15 year old. There are clear ups and downs to this.

#4 – Return to Babylon

Hopefully, no one is too insulted I chose a movie for this list that hasn’t been released yet. Truthfully, it may never be released, so I thought I’d send you down a bit of a film rabbit hole. Ready?

Return to Babylon is a movie about the scandals of the silent film era, shot as a silent film. It explores queer rumors of actors like Rudolph Valentino, and suspicious deaths… as that of Virginia Rappe. It’s gritty, strange, and probably gorgeous. I’m there.

The weird stuff?

Apparently, director Alex Monty Canawati found a bag of 16mm film sitting on a sidewalk on Hollywood Boulevard, and used it in correlation with original hand-cranked movie cameras for very authentic cinematography.

In various clips online you can hear him obsessing over shadows and “Christlike” imagery formed by apparitions of women with beards.

He gained access to the Valentino estate, and uses original jewelry pieces belonging to Rudolph Valentino.

Seriously, the more you click around about this the weirder it gets. I’m all about it, and if I ever get to see it… you’ll be the first to know.

#3 – Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same

If the magic isn’t in the title, than I’ve got nothing else.

Really, this movie is SO MUCH FUN. I went into the theater with a frowny-face, and left feeling really goofy. It’s utterly charming with it’s black and white picture, bald robo-voiced lesbo-aliens, and lightweight approach to the cosmic question…

Is there intelligent love in the universe?

CLSASS (whew*) is directed by Madeleine Olnek, and has been panned by many critics, but not this one. If we love John Waters and Ed Wood, then we certainly have room in our hearts for this.

Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same- TRAILER- NEW from Codependent Lesbian Space Alien on Vimeo.

#2 – Pariah

Sometimes, you come across a movie that isn’t just wonderful to watch… it’s important. I can’t say enough good things about this film. Director, Dee Rees, goes into groundbreaking territory telling the story of Alike (played by Adepero Oduye), a 17-year-old African-American teenager discovering not only her sexuality, but her butch identity as well.

Kim Wayans plays Audrey, her very harsh and woe stricken mother. Some critics that didn’t care for the movie reference Wayans’ very dramatic performance. As much as I don’t like the archetype of the angry non-accepting mother, we have to admit that this character can be very much a reality.

See this movie. Pariah is incredible. Hopefully, we will see more from Dee Rees, and this moving, very crucial film, is just the beginning.

#1 – We Were Here

I had a knee-jerk reaction when I first read about We Were Here. It’s a documentary by David Weissman telling the story of AIDS epidemic from its beginnings in the queer community. Shamefully, I sometimes play a game of avoidance with this particular issue. AIDS took my father, and maybe I haven’t quite made it through all the steps of grief yet.

After watching this amazing documentary, I was left feeling blown away, and for some reason… better. If you watch any interview with Mr. Weissman (also directed The Cockettes), you’ll see how intimate, difficult, and heartbreaking this project was for him.

This film goes back in time in such a revolutionary way. The candid simplicity of accounts going back to the days of the very first infections, when HIV was called “Gay Cancer”, will leave you reeling. The naivety we had towards AIDS seemed like a short frozen breath in the air, swept quickly by a tempest of devastation and overwhelming loss.

I think everyone should see this film. Perhaps, if I’d watched We Were Here closer to the time of my father’s death, I’d feel more at peace with it now. I’m truly astounded at David Weissman’s ability to create a community story.

WE WERE HERE (trailer) from David Weissman on Vimeo.

Honorable blockbuster mentions: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo may have been just another American excuse to copy an already good story almost exactly but the story is worth hearing multiple times with a bisexual female protagonist as tough and awesome as Lis Salander. And just seeing Leonardo DiCaprio parade around as a closeted homosexual in J Edgar is I’m sure as entertaining as it is frustrating…

So that’s it! There were so many great movies this year. It was difficult to chose the best. I’m sure your personal list may be different from mine, but as long as we continue to create and attend, I feel pretty awesome about the direction of queer film.

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