By James Van Maanen
As gay films expand in quality and subject matter, the genre is creating its own garden of sub-genres that -- not surprisingly -- fit comfortably into many of the usual categories that film buffs know and love. Herewith, a selection of nine "sub-genres," with 29 worthwhile (for the most part) examples released on DVD during 2006. (Editor's note: Sadly, this also seemed a weaker year for Lesbian-themed films, with no Saving Face, no My Summer of Love. And, not wanting to encroach on anyone's territory, nor fuel any philosophic debate about the inclusion or exclusion of lesbian film in the gay genre, Jim would welcome a similar lesbian list but did not feel all that qualified to compile it.)
Ratings are out of 5 stars.
Eating Out ****: Politically incorrect, often tasteless in the extreme and twice as much fun because of this. Great dialog and very sexy, too: that phone scene is hot! (And the sequel is in theatres now.)
Another Gay Movie ***: Tries to ape American Pie and the straight date/comedy/sex movies and succeeds -- if only because the genre itself is so low-end and sleazy. The game cast gives itself over to this muck 100 per cent.
Raspberry Reich ***: Hardcore porn meets political satire in Bruce La Bruce's combo of slogans and schlongs. The hard core wins, mostly because the writing and acting is relatively feeble. But the guys are cute and...big.
(a sub-genre that does not exist in straight films: think of it as gay "coming-of-age")
Garcon Stupide ***½: French and full of concept, philosophy, transgression and angst. But also rigorously intelligent and self-aware.
Innocent **½: By-your-bootstraps filmmaking that very nearly succeeds in its endeavor: making us care about a young emigrant from Hong Kong to Canada and his attempt to find a life for himself in school, in love, with family and at work.
Summer Storm ***½: A German high-school rowing champ comes to terms with his difference and his lust. Rich, romantic and full of natural beauty. (Applicable for the "sports" sub genre, too.)
You Are Not Alone ***: Landmark Danish film from 1978 (but released on DVD this year) that still packs a punch, as two boys -- one pre-, the other post-pubescent -- explore their sexuality.
Third Man Out ***: A gay detective and his lover come to terms with "outing," politics, murder and deception. Fun but just good enough to make you wish it were better.
Fabulous: The Story of Queer Cinema ***: If not quite as "fab" as its title proclaims, it's a decent, cheerier follow-up to an earlier decade's sadder "The Celluloid Closet."
Gay Sex in the 70s *** ½: And yes, there was a lot of it -- leading to fun, excess and you-know-what. This interesting, if problematic, documentary shows us both less and more than we might like.
Three of Hearts *** ½: Gay lovers decide to include a straight woman in their mix. Great joy and greater problems ensue. A one-of-a-kind history that knocks you -- and its characters -- for a loop.
Gay Republicans ***: The oxymoron of all time meets and greets several major and minor morons, including a neo-miami ex-cuban and his mom (loved her, hated him) in this hour-long fun-fest directed by Wash Westmoreland (Quinceañera).
That Man: Peter Berlin *** ½: The enduring 70s icon proves a most interesting semi-host in this eye-and-libido-opening doc that undresses its "hero" both literally and metaphorically.
Time to Leave ****: François Ozon does it again -- tackling dying and family is a manner that is so beautiful, real and sad (a little edgy, too) that it's downright humbling.
Fixing Frank *** ½: Three-hander adapted from stage play, that plays with its characters (doctor/patient/patient's lover who is also a doctor) and the viewer in very interesting ways.
Simon **** ½: Dutch treat dealing with life, love, gays, straights, parenting and death -- in funny, sad, adult fashion. Cees Geel, who won Best Actor at the Tribeca Film Festival, is quite memorable in the title role.
WTC View **** ½: Call it drama or a 9/11-inspired fiction, this surprisingly moving "aftermath" movie is beautifully written, directed and acted.
Also of note, even if as a failure: Poster Boy (**): The Gay genre's attempt to do something politically meaningful, dramatically sound and up to the minute is a disaster on every count - but instructively so.
Adam & Steve ****: Smart, silly and occasionally shocking romantic comedy that takes the gay love story to a new level. There's even a musical number!
Cote D'Azur *** ½: The team that brought you The Adventures of Felix offers a bright, seaside romantic comedy of love and confusion. There's a good musical number here, too.
The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life Of Ethan Green ***: It's unusual for a film that begins this poorly (uber-cute and sappy) to win me over, but this one did. The endings - both of them - are a treat, and here's a chance to see Daniel Letterle (of Camp) once again.
Queens ****: Four long-reigning divas of Spanish cinema --Carmen Maura, Mercedes Sampietro, Verónica Forqué and Marisa Paredes -- play the moms of about-to-be-married gay men in a movie generally dismissed by critics but a lot more fun and surprising (intelligent and savvy about people, class and politics) than anything on the subject from these shores.
Hard Pill *** ½: Okay, it's only sci-fi but does posit a sexual preference change via the titular pill, with sexy, smart results that are amusing, sad and unusually rigorous.
Hellbent ***: Serial killer stalks West Hollywood gays on halloween. more clever than you'd expect, from low-budget filmmakers high in imagination, irony and wit.
Open Cam **½: Silly but fun serial-killer soft-core featuring a hunky artist (who paints nudes, of course) and a pretentious cop (played by a guy who mistakes attitude for acting).
Two Drifters ** ½: This weird portuguese contrivance conflates "moon river," some great visuals and a bizarre young woman stalking a corpse. Different but faintly ridiculous.
Guys and Balls ***: A feel-good, gay sports movie no better/no worse than you'd expect, in which a charming cast offers up the usual clichés--except that gays & sports are rarely this closely entwined.
Just out and also of note: 20 Centimeters **½: CWDs (Chicks with Dicks) finally get their very own movie -- and it's a musical! (How's that for genre specificity?). One number is terrific; the rest range from okay to drab. Monica Cervera (El Crimen Perfecto), as the CWD with the courage of her convictions, makes a game leading lady. For you metrically-challenged, 20 centimeters translates to 7.87 inches (...but it looked a lot bigger to me).
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