In honor of Pride, here are some essential, lesser-known LGBTQ movies (listed in no particular order) that go beyond Brokeback Mountain, Philadelphia, and Boys Don't Cry (basically beyond the Oscar winners):
1. The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love (1996)
90's clothes, Walt Whitman, AND high school romance??? It really doesn't get better. Working class Randy Dean is an out, lesbian teenager who meets privileged Evie Roy, an apparently straight girl. They become fast friends, and soon after their friendship develops into a romantic relationship. Randy and Evie both receive criticism from their friends and family for their choices in love, but in the end, they learn that as long as they have other, they can handle any obstacle that comes their way. In a particularly moving scene at the end of the film, Randy and Evie are shown standing in the doorway, and turn to face each other and cover each other's ears to block out anyone who doesn't approve of their relationship. A woefully underrated film that shows the sweetness of true love, and the occasional difficultly of being out of the closet.
2. The Children's Hour (1961)
Based on Lillian Hellman's sensational 1934 play, it tells the story of two schoolteachers Martha Dobie (Shirley Maclaine) and Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn), and how one contrived lie that everyone believes not only destroys their reputations, but also wrecks their lives. Karen is engaged to a doctor (James Garner), and there are hints dropped throughout the film that Martha might want to be more than just friends with Karen. Martha is not totally aware of her feelings (or doesn't want to admit to having them) because she's living in an era where she would be called 'unnatural.' While Martha is feeling confused and depressed, Martha and Karen's lives begin to spiral out of control when a vindictive student of theirs spreads a rumor around the school and to the parents about the two women, causing them to lose their livelihoods, and in Martha's case, her stability cracks and she does something drastic. This film is great to watch to see both how far we've come and how some things have unfortunately stayed the same.
3. Big Eden (2003)
The film Big Eden appeals to both gay and straight audiences with its sweet and earnest narrative that also examines what it means to come to terms with yourself. The story follows Henry Hart (Arye Gross), a gay artist living in New York City, who returns to his hometown Big Eden, Montana to care for his sick grandfather. It has been a long time since Henry last visited his birthplace. While at home, Henry runs into his high school crush, Dean. Henry is still clinging to the perfect image he had of Dean in high school that he does not even notice the attentions of Pike (Eric Schweig), a general store owner. While Henry is out of the closet, he is not officially out to his grandfather and plans on telling him at some point, but he’s afraid. The supporting community of Big Eden tries to help Henry (or interfere. Depending on how you look at it) and help him learn the importance of moving on from the past and finding his own true happiness. A really great film that shows the importance of accepting help from those around us, and it simultaneously debunks stereotypes about supposedly 'small-minded' people in small towns.
4. The Boys in the Band (1970)
Based on Mart Crowley's play, this ensemble movie takes place in one night at a birthday party, with each character bringing their own neuroses, issues, and experiences to the table. Michael (Kenneth Nelson), the host of the party, invites 'Cowboy' (a hustler) over as a present for the birthday boy, Harold (Leonard Frey) and his presumably straight roommate Alan (Peter White). Tensions rise, truths are revealed, and past resentments leave everyone at the party feeling depressed. Really happy film, right? Why I like this movie is that all the actors in the movie played the same roles in the original stage production, and while it is basically a filmed version of the play (which I don't always love), director William Friedkin keeps the action and tension at a perfect pace so the viewer can't help but feel engrossed in the action. It also shows the vast panoply of experiences that LGBTQ people have. In this case, how a group of gay men differently realized their sexuality at varied ages and how some of them feel proud to be out of the closet, while some unfortunately still feel like they have to hide.
5. But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)
This fantastically colored movie is so entertaining, and it taught me that 'camp' is something that is both fun and deserves to be critically analyzed. In fact, I would say that this film is, for me, the definitive 'camp' movie. A 'different' girl is sent away to be reformed, but ends up finally admitting to who she truly is and her passions. Splashed in bright colors, this movie will absolutely warm your heart and make you (almost) want to become a cheerleader.
6. The Celluloid Closet (1995)
An in-depth documentary that shows different gay and lesbian portrayals through the years in cinema. Probably the most surprising part of the documentary is that Gore Vidal added a gay subtext into 1959's Ben-Hur, which really pissed off star Charlton Heston. If you don't want to dive head-first into watching gay and lesbian, this movie is a great sample starter.
7. Before Stonewall (1984)
Another great documentary that shows the days leading up to the 1969 Stonewall riots. Looking back on the earlier decades of the 20th century, we really see how the fight for rights and freedom for all emerged.
8. Trick (1999)
A sweet romantic comedy about two men who just want to have a one-night stand, and end up falling in love, is so charming. Gabriel (Christian Campbell) and Mark (John Paul Pitoc) want to hook up, but they can't find anywhere in Manhattan to do so (this was before Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens started to have gentrified neighborhoods. The good old days.....). After spending all night actually getting to know each other, they start to fall in love. A fantastic journey story that also features Tori Spelling (in case you need more convincing).
9. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
Early Daniel Day-Lewis movies are always great to watch because you can begin to see his genius emerge. Racism, class issues, and gay love all together in one movie, during Thatcher-era England, can come off heavy-handed, but Stephen Frears crafts a beautiful and entertaining story. Street youth Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Pakistani Omar (Gordon Warnecke), who knew each other as students, end up working with each other at a run-down laundrette, and beginning (or possibly resuming) a romantic relationship. A wonderful movie that shows the clash in class and race, and how love really does conquer all.
10. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
I'm sure many of you have listened to the soundtrack, or seen it on Broadway, or just know John Cameron Mitchell from his guest spot on Girls. A trans East-German punk rocker details her life story, specifically focusing on falling for a young American soldier and the botched gender surgery that gave her the 'angry inch.' Perfect movie for those that want to watch a different kind of musical, and don't want to keep watching Rocky Horror Picture Show over and over again.
11. The Wedding Banquet (1993)
Before Ang Lee made Brokeback Mountain, he made the cross-cultural and interracial comedy The Wedding Banquet. The film is part of Lee's 'Father Knows Best' trilogy (along with Pushing Hands and Eat Drink Man Woman). Young Taiwanese Wai-Tung (Winston Chao) is living in New York with his white boyfriend Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein). However, Wai-Tung's traditional-minded parents want him to settle down and get married (to a woman), but they don't know about his true sexuality. He ends up getting involved in a plot to marry a Taiwanese girl to get her a green card, and that just explodes into chaos with his family and boyfriend. A timeless movie that shows the clash between family and true love.
12. Strangers on a Train (1951)
Based on Patricia Highsmith's classic novel (and yes I have actually read it), Alfred Hitchcock shows all of us 'normal' viewers how easy it is for respectable people to get caught up in a psychopath's murderous plans. While this movie does not overtly display homosexuality (because of the production code) in true Hitchcockian fashion though, we do pick up clues about Bruno's (Robert Walker) probable feelings for Guy (Farley Granger). Mainly Bruno wanting to kill Guy's ex-wife to make him happy and stress-free is a big clue. A thrilling and terrifying movie that will definitely make you not want to talk to strangers ever again.
13. Love! Valour! Compassion! (1997)
Based on the Tony-winning Broadway play, this movies shows three summer weekends as a group of gay men escape the New York heat. They discuss everything from Broadway show tunes to the looming AIDS shadow. I found myself uncontrollably laughing and deeply sad and moved at the same time.
14. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
A major hit around the world, it seemed everyone was able to identify with a young woman's sexual awakening brought about by a blue-haired artist. The acting talent of the two leads is really what makes this movie truly outstanding as they navigate being two women in love.
15. Ma Vie en Rose (1997)
Not to be confused with the Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose, this Belgian gem is about trans seven-year-old Ludovic (Georges Du Fresne) who can't wait to grow up to be a beautiful woman and marry the boy next door. Ludovic's parents are terribly confused at their son's insistence on wearing dresses and acting more feminine, so they send him to a therapist, who reaffirms Ludovic's identity as a 'girlboy.' This helps the family start to properly support and guide their child through societal torment and the standard growing pains of childhood. It's positive message was way ahead of its time, and is truly worth a viewing.
16. C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005)
One of my favorite Quebecois films, C.R.A.Z.Y. is about a family of five sons: Christian, Raymond, Antoine, Zac, and Yvan, growing up in the 1970's. Focusing on Zac (Marc-André Grondin), a closeted boy struggling with homophobia, a conservative father, and more traditionally masculine brothers. Throughout the movie, he often retreats into his imagination, with David Bowie and the Rolling Stones providing background music, because that's the only place where he can truly feel like himself. A beautiful film that shows a father and son on their journey towards acceptance of one another. Also, the soundtrack is really incredible.
17. Rope (1948)
Based on the infamous Leopold and Loeb case (you know the one), this movie based on the play, shows again how Hitchcock loved to get things past the censors. Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) are an obviously gay couple (I'm thinking that the censors thought they were nothing more than roommates) who decide to carry-out the 'perfect' murder. They do, and what do you do after you kill someone? Throw a cocktail party, full of guests who knew the victim, while the body is stuffed in a chest that everyone is using to put their drinks down. Hitchcock used long, continuous shots that make the viewer feel both complicit in the crime and like a helpless viewer who can't do anything. Truly terrifying.
18. Kissing Jessica Stein (2001)
Easily one of my favorite romantic comedies, Jessica Stein (Jennifer Westfeldt) is fed up with men and answers Helen's (Heather Juergensen) intriguing personal ad. After spending some friendly time together, they dive into a serious relationship. Not exactly a model lesbian movie, it does show the fluidity of sexuality and encourages self-exploration and standing on your own two feet.
19. All About My Mother (1999)
Probably my favorite Pedro Almodóvar film, we watch Manuela (Cecilia Roth) go through the painful loss of her son and her journey to look for his father: the transvestite Lola (Toni Cantó), who doesn't know she has a son. A heartfelt movie that shows how family really can be made up of people that we choose.
20. Mädchen in Uniform (1931)
A German movie that is usually credited as the first movie to feature a pro-gay storyline, it also has an all-female cast, which we don't even see that often in the present. A student falls in love with her sophisticated teacher, leading to unforeseen consequences, but it never spirals into out-of-control anti-gay hysteria. What I find incredible is that the whole movie survived World War II. It was edited during the Nazi regime, but was ultimately condemned for 'decadence' and the fact that many of the actresses are Jewish. Thank god it was popular outside of Germany and was preserved!
Please, please let me know if any of you watch these movies and what you think of them! Or if you have any other essential LGBTQ films that you think should be included, write to me.