Our best of the year list again
produces a first place tie: a magic realism fueled romantic tragedy,
celebrating the taming of the Latin macho, is paired with a dark view of a
digital urchin who’s upended our lives with motives perhaps as base as Welles’
media tyrant Charles Foster Kane. Several picks are followed by “Oscar bait”
tips. Two worthies whose films didn’t make the list: Patricia Clarkson (Cairo
Time) as a beautiful approaching fifty lady whose platonic affair grandly
overshadows mere sins of the flesh; and a shout out to neglected funny man Jim
Carrey for a mesmerizing queer con man in I Love You Phillip Morris.
Fuentes-Leon nestles a quixotic ghost story on Peru’s pristine Pacific beaches
in which a married fisherman must choose between his male lover and his tiny
seaside community’s immutable moral codes.
seamlessly abandons his tale’s realistic moorings and substitutes the
confounding dilemma that Santiago has died at sea and that his ghost confronts
his guilty lover at the most inconvenient moments. Watch a master filmmaker
reinvigorate hoary clichés about closets and the sins of unrepentant machos.
Oscar Bait: Deserves a best foreign
1-The Social Network: This
film’s genius level collaboration becomes a volatile mix of director David
Fincher’s curdled satire bordering on nihilistic cynicism and writer Aaron
Sorkin’s fascination with how a party down generation can rock the world.
trick that allows us to endure the corrosive boorishness of Jesse Eisenberg’s
Face Book founder Mark Zuckerberg is the device of surrounding him with
physically more imposing young male co-stars. Andrew Garfield is sublimely
needy as the punching bag ex-best friend: providing an empathetic surrogate for
other victims of computer hedge fund capitalism.
bait: Eisenberg nails this era’s most unlikely conquering hero: the paradigm smashing
2-The Kids Are All Right: Lisa Cholodenko (with
co-writer Stuart Blumberg) concocts an exhilarating same sex family tale in
that sturdiest of American genres, the screwball comedy. This genre facilitates
a slew of hilarious unintended consequences including
a series of unauthorized sleepovers and a bravura drunken dinner party where
Annette Bening channels her inner Joni Mitchell. While avoiding the dreaded
topic of lesbian bed death, the filmmakers invoke screwball’s motif of the main
couple undergoing a kind of symbolic divorce followed by a magical remarriage.
bait: ACT alum Bening richly deserves her third stab at best actress honors for
a new type of screen heroine: the lesbian mom overcoming the odds and keeping her
gal and family.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work: Rivers, at
seventy-six, demonstrates that queers have no monopoly on campy, kitschy,
absurdist, self-referential, self-deprecating, self-flagellating humor. The doc
shows why – after multiple nips and tucks – Joan’s still hungry for hefty
personal appearance fees -- an aide quips, “No upgrade, well then they’ll get
$125,000 worth of attitude!”
3-Howl: Rob Epstein and
Jeffrey Friedman take artistic risks and liberties as they plant us inside the
mind of a mad homo poet, the twenty-nine-year-old Allen Ginsberg – played with
a saucy élan by quick change artist James Franco.
between a mesmerizing recreation of Ginberg’s first public reading of Howl
and the obscenity trial of the poem’s publisher the filmmakers allow a direct
address turn by Franco to reveal the Beat Movement’s unique queer/straight
127 Hours: Danny Boyle vividly reinvents the fable of
the coyote who, caught in a trap, chews off his leg to escape. The coyote is a
red blooded American grown up kid who throws himself up against nature’s most
pitiless scenery and bets that he’ll bounce out of trouble like the cartoon
character Wiley E. Coyote. James Franco ditches Ginsberg’s specs to play a
reckless, stoned out fool duking it out with the evolving grownup.
4-The King’s Speech: A must see for fans of The
Queen, director Tom Hooper and writer David Seidel cradle a tale of how
Queen Elizabeth’s dad, George VI, overcame a crippling stammer in a moving “two
hander” between a future king (Colin Firth) and ballsy speech therapist Lionel
Logue (Geoffrey Rush), whose methods in an earlier age might well have earned
him lodging in the Tower of London.
Oscar bait: Colin Firth has all but
won the best acting honors for a performance that is much showier than his
understated, grieving lover in last year’s A Single Man.
Tiny Furniture: This witty mumble core social comedy
offers a nervy, emotionally subtle portrait of a young woman (director/writer
Lena Dunham) testing her social, sexual, and career boundaries while competing
in an impossibly hip world where men are unavailable and women pose prickly
problems of a different order. An up-to-the-minute peek at over-educated kids
who aren’t leaving the nest, at least not until possessing better resumes than
sassy You Tube cowboy or dyslexic sex worker.
5-Restrepo: This troops in Afghanistan doc is
pessimistic on ending the war but cautiously optimistic about gay boys playing
well with others in the foxholes. Restrepo’s uncensored moments include a spontaneous disco dance night
at the fort and the sight of half naked soldiers wrestling, sunbathing and
snoozing. Co-director Tim Hetherington observes, “Only in war does society
allow men to show love for each other.’”
The Inside Job: See SF native Charles Ferguson’s
brilliant projectile vomit provoking piece of journalism on the financial
meltdown the first time to vent your disgust at the system, then a second time
for the information we’re all going to need after this tsunami of a mid-term
6-I Killed My Mother: This chamber piece from
Quebec prodigy Xavier Dolan will thrill fans of mom bashing classics Where’s
Poppa and Mommie Dearest. Dolan finds a painfully funny way to
present a series of queer boy/mommy pitched battles that only snap
together when mom is given her primal scream.
Beautiful Darling: The most
poignant and fleeting stab at stardom from the Warhol crowd belongs to young
James Slattery, fated to grow up with a girlish countenance and an obsession to
mime Kim Novak. Riding the Long Island train taken by NYC cops getting off the
midnight shift – Candy Darling plopped herself down in Manhattan precincts
where a man in makeup and a dress risked arrest and worse. Crashing the hot
house world of Warhol’s movie factory with a handful of star struck chicks with
dicks, Candy was the one boy actress who could match a young Marilyn Monroe.
7-To Die Like A Man: The director of O Fantasma, Joao
Pedro Rodrigues, achieves his masterwork in this sublimely surreal, tragic and
yet transcendent melodrama celebrating the final choices of a Lisbon female
Boxing Gym: Doc master Frederick Wiseman’s portrait
of a working class Texas gym is visual catnip for serious film students.
Wiseman’s camera slices across layers of workouts from women sweating out a new
sports bra to blubbery middle age men. The spirit of the joint is captured by a
hunky white boy giving a tour to a Hispanic new member. “Anybody who
comes in here acting tough ass don’t last very long – it’s like, dude, not that
kind of atmosphere.”
8-Strapped: Joseph Graham smoothly doubles down on
many of his debut film Vanilla’s haunted boy/horror riffs -- allowing us
to stalk a chameleon like boyish hustler (the yummy Ben Bonenfant) through a
melancholy rainy night, gliding through a queer building whose absentee cinema
landlord is probably named Polanski.
Hereafter: As he did so brilliantly with Million
Dollar Baby, Clint Eastwood – with a miraculously understated screenplay
by Peter Morgan (The Queen) – takes a subject that reeks of melodrama,
and unearned tears and rinses it of every screen cliché, allowing us emphasize
with an ordinary guy (Matt Damon) afflicted with “psychic powers.”
9-The Extra Man: Based on Jonathan Ames’ novel of
social manners, Paul Dano steals the show as a sly and shy hetero cross-dresser
– fired from a private school for wearing a bra in the faculty lounge – who
lands under the roof of a crazy old bachelor (a hilarious Kevin Kline) who argues
that Henry James’ later novels were flawed because James toasted his testicles
on a hot stove. Dano’s character’s desire to come out as a heterosexually
inclined transvestite is met by a cutting assessment from a professional
dominatrix. “You’re not really straight, but you’re not really gay. You’re
It’s as if Dano was auditioning for the Jack Lemmon role in
a remake of Some Like It Hot.
The Stranger in US: With the best peek at life in
SF’s queer combat zone since Cyrus Amini’s Twenty-Five
Cent Preview, Scott Boswell finds original and witty ways to assess
the price of life on the streets for each generation that hangs out in our
little psychotic Disneyland.
10-Winter’s Bone: Jennifer Lawrence is this season’s
pluckiest heroine as her tenacious teen learns deadly secrets about life in her
Southern Missouri corner of Appalachia after the disappearance of her meth
dealer dad. Debra Granik evokes an oddly beautiful distressed America (from
Daniel Woodrell’s novel) filled with guys you don’t mess with.
Oscar bait: Lawrence as a stout
hearted country girl who’s too young for the army but tough enough to endure
horrors that would impress an Iraqi vet.
Rabbit Hole: John Cameron Mitchell evokes the
sad/funny meanings imagined in the title of David Lindsay-Abaire’s
Pulitzer-prize play in an enhanced screen version with a pitch perfect cast.
Oscar bait: Nicole Kidman for
channeling the grief of a mom whose solace arises from stalking the teenage
driver of the car that killed her