And the Awards Go To...
Director of The Skin I Live In
Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar reunites with one of his greatest discoveries, Antonio Banderas, in this perversely hypnotic medical horror film that redefines the term "boy toy." At first it seems Almodóvar has lost his way, but he has a purpose. He deliberately and methodically rewards viewers' patience, seducing them before delivering astonishing — and often shocking — images.
Dustin Lance Black
Screenwriter for J. Edgar
Already an Academy Award-winner for his screenplay about another gay man (2008's Milk), Black has meticulously researched the often-despised FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Writing about such a complicated man was obviously a challenge to the talented 37-year-old. Biographers have speculated on Hoover's relationship with Clyde Tolson, his right-hand man, and suggested Hoover was a closet cross-dresser. As portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the Clint Eastwood-directed film, Hoover emerges as a somewhat sympathetic character, capable of great cruelty yet tortured by his affection for Tolson, played by Armie Hammer. Black says his goal was to understand the heart of a monster, telling The Advocate, "If we continue to demonize him, then we learn nothing."
Director of The Help
It could have gone so wrong. Kathryn Stockett sold the film rights to The Help, her best-selling novel about the relationship between homeowners and their domestic staff in 1960s Mississippi, to her childhood friend Tate Taylor, an out actor (Sordid Lives, Winter's Bone) with only one directing credit, 2008's little-seen Pretty UglyPeople. But the female-driven film received strong reviews, became a surprise box office hit, grossing more than $200 million worldwide, and is now a major awards contender. Despite a few quibbles about the film sugarcoating the civil rights era, Taylor's direction, short on flashy style, compensates with rich emotional pull as well as an admirable eye for time and place, and he elicits strong performances from the entire ensemble.
Tom Cullen & Chris New
Actors in Weekend
Director Andrew Haigh's engaging drama about the immediate bond formed between two men who meet in a gay bar and spend the next 48 hours together isn't just the best-reviewed LGBT film of 2011, it's the best-reviewed romantic movie of the year. Weekend derives much of its authenticity from the completely realistic performances of its relatively unknown stars, Tom Cullen and Chris New. New, who is gay, tells The Advocate that Haigh gave the two actors room to improvise. "Just having the freedom to do whatever we wanted was incredible," he says. "And it led us to that naturalistic style."
Actor in Margin Call
A newly out gay celebrity and the sexiest Spock yet does double duty with Margin Call, a thriller set in the thick of the financial crisis. Quinto, 34, who appears in the Sundance breakout film with a star-studded cast (Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Jeremy Irons, and Paul Bettany), also produced the movie. "We wanted to get behind it for a number of reasons, not only creatively, but also socially," he told IndieWire of this auspicious debut for his production company, Before the Door Pictures. "That was really interesting to us. The fact it scared us and the fact that there was a lot to tackle made us realize it was the right project." The film and its ensemble cast have variously been nominated for the Gotham Awards and Independent Spirit Awards, among others, and the movie has received two National Board of Review Awards.
Director of Tomboy
French lesbian screenwriter and director Céline Sciamma teased out one of the year's most evocative performances from a young actress, much as she did with her previous film, Water Lilies. In Tomboy, Zoé Héran plays Laure, a 10-year-old who moves to a new neighborhood and introduces herself to the local kids as Michaël, and spends the summer as a boy. It's a brilliant portrayal of gender ambivalence, and Héran's exuberant swagger as she's accepted as a boy — and later develops a crush on a girl — is magnificent. "It's such a great movie," says author and filmmaker Jenni Olson. "I feel like it manages to speak simultaneously to lesbian and trans viewers in a really special way."
That indeed is Sciamma's gift with Tomboy — that she can explore the divide between gender and sex, the question of nature versus nurture, and what Sciamma calls "the sensuality of childhood." The film, its director, and its star have already won a slew of awards on the festival circuit, including the Jury Prize at the 2011 Teddy Awards, which honor films with LGBT themes, at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Director and screenwriter of In the Land of Blood and Honey
She's the movie star without comparison, and now, with a pretty solid screenwriting and directorial debut, Angelina Jolie has garnered even more respect. In the Land of Blood and Honey is a riveting hybrid of genres (call it an American foreign film) and possibly the first film that's acted in a language that the director and writer don't speak (in Bosnian and Serbian, the languages spoken by the actors, with English subtitles). The film centers around Ajla, a 20-something artist and Bosnian Muslim in love with Danijel, a Bosnian Serb soldier whose father commands the Serbian troops in Bosnia and advocates for genocidal policies against the Muslims. Through Ajla and Danijel, the movie tells the story of the ethnic cleansing that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Their love affair is soaked in the realities of war and set amid the atrocities committed by the Serbs (including enslaving Muslim women for sex) and rebel uprisings; the film features more horrific violence and brutal rape scenes than most movie romances. But it's riveting and complex, and at one point as the screen goes blank viewers get a shocking fright that serves as a reminder of how visceral and harrowing a moviegoing experience can be.
Actress in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Mara made her professional debut just six years ago on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and her big break in film was the lead in 2010's A Nightmare on Elm Street. Her small but acclaimed role that same year in David Fincher's The Social Network caught everyone's attention. Pale with long brown hair and a waifish 5-foot-3 frame, Mara was certainly cute, without a distinctive appearance in those projects. In auditioning for the role of Lisbeth — a nearly three-month-long process in which Mara beat out several other actresses, including Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lawrence, and Carey Mulligan — Mara became a smoker, got multiple piercings (including a nipple, an eyebrow, and four in her ears), bleached her brows, learned to ride a motorcycle, took up kickboxing, underwent dialect training, learned the basics of computer programming, and visited Stockholm, where the film is set. Consequently, there's not a whiff remaining of the young woman viewers previously knew as Rooney Mara. The film, in which Lisbeth, a young bisexual computer hacker, helps journalist Mikael Blomkvist search for a woman who was presumed murdered 40 years ago, has been a critical darling, and Mara has been nominated for a Golden Globe. As she contends for numerous awards this season (the film itself was already named one of the top ten movies of 2011 by the American Film Institute), Rooney, who is the founder and president of the African charity Faces of Kibera, is starting to look a lot like the next Angelina Jolie.
Actor in Shame
Rising star and insta-heartthrob Fassbender, 34, has been causing quite a stir for his performance in Steve McQueen's film Shame. The Irish-German actor came to prominence after turns in Jane Eyre and X-Men: First Class, and in Shame he plays a sex addict in search of satisfaction. That search takes his character to a same-sex encounter in a gay bathhouse. He told Time Out Chicago, "It doesn't become about homosexuality or heterosexuality, it becomes about a fix, and where can I get my fix? That is a real scenario for many addicts that are predominantly heterosexual and they end up with a guy. You put yourself into a scenario that you wouldn't do in a normal situation because your choice is gone." As for the nudity and sexual frankness that prompted an NC-17 rating, the Golden Globe nominee told The Huffington Post, "Half of us have a penis and the other half have probably seen one, and so why should it be more normal to, like, chop people's heads off and shoot people? Does that mean that that's more acceptable or closer to us as human beings?"
Musician, "Lay Your Head Down" from Albert Nobbs
Bisexual musician Sinéad O'Connor is known as much for her breathtaking performances on albums like The Lion and the Cobra and Faith and Courage as she is for her political views, her sexy blog, and her wacky offstage personal antics, including an 18-day marriage that hit the skids because of crack cocaine. But at the Los Angeles release party for the Albert Nobbs soundtrack, O'Connor's live performance of the song "Lay Your Head Down" was the unparalleled highlight of the event. Though Glenn Close wrote the tune's lyrics and Brian Byrne the melody, it's O'Connor who gives this melancholic Irish lullaby, which many assumed was on Oscar's radar, its full weight and beauty. With O'Connor's angelic, otherworldly voice and lyrics that speak to acceptance and selfhood, "Lay Your Head Down" does something a film track rarely does: It lets the person at the center of the movie — in this case, Close's Albert Nobbs — live long after she's offscreen.
Director of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The English film and theater director has helmed many gay-favorite projects, including Billy Elliot and The Hours. In 2011, Daldry, 51, turned his attention to an adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's 2005 novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. His film version stars Thomas Horn as an 11-year-old who has lost his father (played by Tom Hanks) in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center; Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow, and Viola Davis also star. Though he identifies as gay, Daldry has been married to actress and dancer Lucy Sexton since 2001 and said this to The Advocate in 2003: "I can have kids if I'm gay. And I can also get married and have a fantastic life. Yes. To all questions [having to do] with my marriage, the answer to everything is yes. Do I have sex with my wife? Yes. Is it a real marriage? Yes. Am I gay? Yes." The film has already been nominated for or won seven awards from festivals and regional critics associations.
Actress in Albert Nobbs
While Albert Nobbs has been a Glenn Close passion project for over a decade, the surprise performance in the period film is McTeer's. She plays Hubert Page, living in 19th-century Ireland, born female but living as a man to find work and marry a woman. Both transgender and lesbian moviegoers have embraced the character as their own. "We had a ball," McTeer told Vanity Fair about making the film with Close. "We were both really nervous, because when you watch this movie you absolutely have to believe, as an audience member, that we are believable as men." Close commandeered McTeer, 51, for the film after seeing the British actress in a stage performance, and McTeer has since been lauded by festivals and critics and has been nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award, an Independent Spirit Award, and a Golden Globe for this performance.
Actress in Carnage
An actress, producer, and director, Jodie Foster has made some great movies, from Taxi Driver in 1976 to The Brave One in 2007. Carnage is not her best film, but her performance, as always, elevates what some critics say might have been best left on the stage. (The Roman Polanski-directed film is an agile but claustrophobic adaptation of Yasmina Reza's play God of Carnage.) As two sets of parents come together to discuss a schoolyard fight between their kids, the film forays into the absurdly melodramatic world of affluence and contemporary parenthood. As Penelope Longstreet, Foster is didactic and excitable, an almost intentional caricature of liberal hypocrisy, and her battle scenes with Christoph Waltz (as a smarmy, workaholic attorney) rise above everything else. Both Foster and costar Kate Winslet were nominated for Golden Globes.