Best Gay DVDs of 2008

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Best Gay Films on DVD 2008

By James Van Maanen

Yeah, yeah: I admit to not having seen 'em all, so consider this the list of the best of what I have seen. I'm including lesbian films this time because there were several terrific movies I can't, in good conscience, leave out, though I am sure there are others I've missed. I've also tried to find films that force the viewer to look at "gay" a little differently and maybe try to figure out how the term fits into our world at large. Other than the first shown below, the films are listed in no particular order.

  1. Not simply the best "gay" film of the year on DVD, André Téchiné's The Witnesses is one of the best films of the year period. The film looks at a group of friends in France-- straight and gay -- around the time that AIDS took hold. Full of life/death, hope/despair, joy/desolation, it is, in a word, profound. 
  2. Gay liberation takes on a whole new meaning with A Very British Gangster, the documentary by Donal MacIntyre that explores the infamous Noonan family of Manchester, England.  Initially appearing like a rowdy bunch of over-age high-schoolers, the Noonan clan, friends and hangers-on slowly morph into something far more complex -- and troubling.  Just as does the movie itself.
  3. Culture clash is just one on the battles fought in the interesting Italian film Shelter Me (Riparo in its original language). Director/co-writer (with Monica Rametta) Marco S. Puccioni has filled his tale with conflicting dichotomies -- lesbian/straight, capitalist/socialist, east/west, legal/illegal -- then capped it with a tug-of-war regarding responsibility.  The acting is terrific all around.
  4. Jack Smith And The Destruction Of Atlantis. Here's some history of a "gay" icon at a time when the world was barely using the word ("gay," not "icon"). Mary Jordan's interesting documentary about an underground artist from the 60s who pre-dated Warhol in fame, perhaps talent, but certainly not marketing ability, Jack Smith And The Destruction Of Atlantis fills us in via interviews with a wealth of folk from time past and present.
  5. Speaking of history, finally out on DVD is the famous Noel Coward Trilogy from British TV: three discs series on one of the most famous closeted gays in history. (Coward came from a time when homosexuality was outlawed in Britain). This brilliant series is a must for anyone interested in who we were and what we aspired to, back in the day. 
  6. Christophe Honore's bi-sexual musical delight, Love Songs features a crack cast (including French hunk-du-jour Louis Garrel) and is full of love, life, loss and surprise.  The music is sweet and up-to-date (one love song is sung via cell phone), and the last line is about as perfect and poignant as any you'll hear this year.   
  7. In DarkBlueAlmostBlack writer/director Daniel Sánchez Arévalo tells his story so cleverly and interestingly that you will most likely go along with each bizarre step in this tale of two families fractured by many complications. Arévalo hooks you on feelings first, so that--no matter how strange events become--you'll care too much for the characters to object too strenuously to what they do. The movie may also introduce you to one of Spain's sexiest young actors, Rául Arévalo, who plays the hero's best friend.
  8. Dalibor Matanic's Fine Dead Girls is a great little melodrama: economic, sharp, very well acted/written/directed.  It'll make you angry -- and rightly so, as it tracks the tale of two smart, attractive lesbians in post-war Croatia.
  9. "Born again" takes on new meaning in Jay Floyd's unusual romp Forgiving The Franklins, which deals with religion, homosexuality and a few other au courant topics in its own sweet-and-sour way.
  10. Bob Balaban's Bernard And Doris is so much better than I'd have believed possible in allowing us to understand the relationship between billionaires Doris Duke and her butler Bernard Lafferty. Ralph Fiennes is spectacularly good in what just may be the best role he'll ever have.

Honorable Mentions:

  1. Remember the (very) old TV series Mr. & Mrs. North? Imagine something like this now, but with a gay/lesbian team at the helm, plenty of full-frontal, and one nice scene that I'd call "full-rear-al."  That should give you some idea of the silly/sweet/sexy/campy/mystery quality of 2 Minutes Later, a real hoot of a film.  Just over an hour long, it was clearly aimed for a cable slot, and maybe even a series.  And why not? You -- and gay cable TV -- could do a lot worse.
  2. Beyond Hatred is a quiet exploration of a French family's response to the unprovoked hate-crime killing of their homosexual son.  The entire film is done in a roundabout manner, with family members, as well as the father of the killers and those acting for both the defense and prosecution all talking to the interviewer.  We never see the perpetrators themselves, but as the film slowly builds, you will find yourself riveted.  By the end, when the parents send a letter to the killers now in jail, you'll be happy you watched and learned. 
  3. Park: A lovely little ensemble piece set in a scruffy, overgrown bit of wasteland in Southern California, offers a very disparate group of people connecting in ways foolish, nasty and sweet. 
  4. The sexuality in Water Lilies is confused and often happens for the wrong reasons -- not unlike most other things in the lives of the teenagers that make up the core of this fine French film from first-time filmmaker Celine Sciamma.
  5. Director and co-writer (with Gal Uchovsky) Eytan Fox's The Bubble is about the denizens of a mostly gay enclave in Tel Aviv, Israel.  All Fox's films educate us, but this one seems to be trying harder than necessary. Sermons, even relatively subtle ones, don't seem to get the job done all that well. You may wish the movie had been better, but I doubt you'll be able to shake it off so easily.

 

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Okay, I've seen 2 films from

Okay, I've seen 2 films from this entire list (Water Lilies and Jack Smith). Clearly, I've got some work to do. Great list, James!

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