The Top 175 Essential Films of All Time for LGBT Viewers
BY Advocate.com Editors
June 23 2014 6:33 AM ET
121. Grey Gardens (1975): Albert and David Maysles set out to make a documentary about Lee Radizwill, Jacqueline Kennedy's sister. While doing research they instead became completely entranced by Jackie and Lee's eccentric aunt and cousin, the big and little Edith Bouvier Beales. A haunting and wistful story, the film was dormant for years until 1992 when it suddenly caught fire with VHS copies circulating among gay men "in the know." Its popularity grew so quickly that homages were made in fashion magazines, Little Edie was constantly quoted, and eventually a wonderful scripted movie about the Beales was made in 2009 with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange. —C.H.
122. Clueless (1995): This adaptation of Emma is so many things to so many people, but importantly, it was sort of an introduction to feminism for young girls beginning to understand class, gender, and sexuality. (OK, it's not really that heavy, but go with us here.) Murray's desire to be "street" and use misogynistic terms clashes with Dionne's self-respect. At its center, Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) becomes the model friend by playing matchmaker and wielding her extensive knowledge of makeovers. Tai (Brittany Murphy) may be a rough-and-tumble new girl from New York, but Cher takes Tai under her wing to weather the politics of Beverly Hills High School. And then of course Cher falls for the seemingly perfect-for-her Christian, who she later realizes is gay. She's crestfallen but sticks with him as a friend anyway. Clueless is wonderfully quotable — "He's a total Baldwin," "As if," and "It’s like that book I read in the ninth grade that said, 'Tis a far, far better thing doing stuff for other people.'" —M.G.
123. Personal Best (1982): Just before the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow, and a couple of years after Title IX, bisexual pentathlete Chris is facing a tumultuous time in her life. Between her rigorous attempts to make the Olympic team, she's distracted by Tori, a lesbian who has an unbeatable drive to dominate women's track and field. Chris and Tori (played by actual track athlete Patrice Donnelly) have to go toe-to-toe for two spots on the women's Olympic team, but the audience knows the real outcome — the Americans never headed to Moscow, so elite runners that year had to eschew a gold medal for the denotation of a "personal best" on their record. —M.G.
124. Rebel Without a Cause (1955): Considered a classic of cinema, Rebel Without a Cause features the greatest performance of actor James Dean, who died in a car crash before the film’s 1955 release. Never has teen angst been captured so poignantly than by Dean’s character Jim Stark, who drinks and fights through his social and parental dilemmas. Perhaps one of the first major gay characters appears in Rebel: Plato (Sal Mineo), who worships Dean’s character, and whose death at the film’s conclusion marks an important moment in American film. Directed by Nicholas Ray, the movie is also notable for the performance of a young Natalie Wood, Dean’s love interest, as well as the switchblade-wielding bully portrayed by actor Corey Allen. Moreover, it gave celebrity to many locations in Los Angeles where it is set, including the Griffith Observatory, where the teens viewed how the universe would end. —D.R.
125. Steel Magnolias (1989): How hard it is to find a film that is both a feminist and camp classic, but Steel Magnolias does it. The film is based on Robert Harling's stage play about an all-female cast of characters in Louisiana. Dolly Parton, Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Daryl Hannah are all delights, but it's Shirley MacLaine as a curmudgeonly cynic and Olympia Dukakis as her loving but wisecracking confidant who steal the show. It’s an ensemble story about female friendship, motherhood, love and death, and how fragility and strength can be two sides of the same coin. Plus it’s very funny. And campy — with plenty of quotable dialogue. —D.A.M.
126. The Opposite of Sex (1998): Christina Ricci is the acerbic and witty 16-year-old who moves in with her gay half brother, seduces his boyfriend (who comes out as bisexual), and manipulates the world around her. Best of all, Lisa Kudrow is there to make every scene funny. It's a Don Roos gem. —D.A.M.
127. Orlando (1992): Based on Virginia Woolf's fantasy novel of the same name, Tilda Swinton plays the young nobleman who, at Queen Elizabeth I's command, stays young forever. But Orlando also changes gender and becomes a woman of keen insight and delicate irony. Director Sally Potter got the tone just right here, and of course there is Tilda handling nobility and gender fluidity as only she can. Bon vivant Quentin Crisp has a star turn as Queen Elizabeth. The sets and costumes are superb, which makes the two Oscar nominations in those categories no surprise. —C.H.
128. Valentine Road (2013): Director Marta Cunningham’s powerful documentary unravels the tragedy of Larry King's 2008 killing by his eighth-grade classmate Brandon McInerney, revealing the heartbreaking circumstances that led to the shocking crime as well as its startling aftermath. Although you might expect to know how you’ll feel about King and his killer, Valentine Road goes deep beyond the headlines and explores the toxic environments that both boys were trying to survive in and uncovers the tragically inadequate response of the school district when reacting to the violence faced and witnessed by its students. —S.B.
129. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951): Admittedly, there are no explictly LGBT characters in this classic adapted from Tennessee Williams’s play of the same name. But LGBT representations weren’t seen on screen in mid-century America. So the out playwright, combined with rumored bisexual lead actor Marlon Brando’s hypermasculine, tortured Stanley Kowalski, and Vivien Leigh’s Blanche DuBois — emotional, unstable, but perhaps not wholly delusional — earn the film an undoubted and hallowed place in the LGBT film canon. Before gay men and lesbians could see themselves represented on the silver screen, the closest they could come were these coded representations of “hysterical” women and troubled men who seemed to have a little too much to prove. Oh, and there's the mention of Blanche's "sensitive" late husband. —S.B.
130. Gilda (1946): "There never was a woman like Gilda," touted the movie posters, and since she was played by the ravishing Rita Hayworth, it wasn't just hype. But this was a film noir with a twist: Hayworth's femme fatale comes between a couple of guys who seem to be way more than friends, George Macready as a shady casino owner and Glenn Ford as his right-hand man. Ford said he recognized the movie's gay subtext in retrospect, "but it never occurred to us at the time we were filming." No matter — it's obvious to savvy viewers. —T.R.
131. Imagine Me and You (2005): Taking on her second lesbian role after Lost and Delirious, Piper Perabo stars in this ultimate British lesbian rom-com (think Notting Hill but with lesbians). Her Rachel is happily about to marry Heck (played with irresistible affability by Matthew Goode), but things get complicated when, on her wedding day, Rachel meets Lena Headey’s even more irresistible florist Luce, and it’s pretty much love at first sight. Director Ol Parker (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) delivers a sweet, funny, and thoughtful film that offers the distinctly modern ending in which girl gets girl and boy eventually understands. —T.E.G.
132. Kiss of The Spider Woman (1985): William Hurt won the Academy Award for his sensitive portrayal of Molina, a window dresser imprisoned in Brazil for homosexual activity with a minor during the country’s military dictatorship. The outstanding Raul Julia costars as Molina’s cellmate Arregui, a political dissident to whom Molina obsessively retells the plot to his favorite melodramatic movie, about a dangerously glamorous spider woman (Sonia Braga). Molina falls for Arregui even as their jailers offer Molina a lighter sentence to spy on the revolutionary. Eventually the men form a bond that can only end in tragedy. Based on Manuel Puig’s best seller, the tragically beautiful movie deftly weaves Molina’s celluloid fantasies with the harsh conditions of prison. The entire movie serves as a metaphor of sorts for the kind of escape from oppression that gay people have found at the movies since the dawn of film. —T.E.G.
133. Priest (1994): Father Greg Pilkington (Linus Roache) tries to reconcile his faith and position in the Catholic Church as a priest with his sexuality and love for another man in this groundbreaking 1994 British film. Directed by Antonia Bird, Priest was a darling of the film festival circuit, winning several awards including the People’s Choice Award at the 1994 Toronto International Film Festival. —J.P.
134. The Living End (1992): One of the earliest entries in the New Queer Cinema genre, filmmaker Gregg Araki’s bold and raw dramedy follows two gay, HIV-positive men — one brash and reckless, the other rather meek and cynical — after they meet cute and end up on the road trip to end all road trips. A homophobic cop is killed en route, and the pulchritudinous (and often shirtless) couple, in a queer Gen-X motif, adopt the motto “Fuck everything.” Of course, critics noted parallels to Thelma & Louise, dubbing The Living End a gay version of the feminist classic. It’s not a film for everyone, but for its generation, it was perfect: cynical, confrontational, romantic, confusing. —D.A.M.
135. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): For anyone who’s ever felt like a misfit, The Perks of Being a Wallflower resonates loudly. The film’s one out gay character, Patrick (Ezra Miller), embodies a simultaneously free-spirited and angsty role that is hard not to love. Patrick is the gay hero and a cool kid — wouldn’t we all have loved to be him in high school? Though the primary love story features straight characters, the real impact of the film lies in the theme of belonging. Patrick, Sam (Emma Watson), and Charlie (Logan Lerman) are a family of friends who are relatable, lovable, and complex. —Mac Q. Simon
136. The Sum of Us (1994): An adaptation of Australian playwright David Stevens’s play of the same name, The Sum of Us tells the story of father Harry (Jack Thompson) and son Jeff (a young Russell Crowe) who live together and are both looking for partners. Instead of presenting the common struggling dad trope, The Sum of Us features an incredibly enthusiastic father excited about his son’s search for a boyfriend. The film’s second part becomes less about looking for love and more about finding it within a parental relationship when Harry has a stroke. —K.O.
137. The Watermelon Woman (1996): Iconic lesbian filmmaker Cheryl Dunye’s first wide-release feature, The Watermelon Woman chronicles the Liberian-born director’s attempt to track down the black 1930s actress known as "The Watermelon Woman." The film is a compelling mix of documentary and fictional narrative, drawing parallels between Dunye’s budding romance with a white woman and the interracial relationship she discovers took place between the Watermelon Woman and Martha Page, one of Hollywood’s few female directors at the time. The film expertly showcases Dunye’s keen eye for storytelling, pulling viewers in so that we are just as shocked by her discoveries as are her characters. —S.B.
138. Aimée & Jaguar (1999): Based on Erica Fischer’s biography of the unbelievable story of forbidden lesbian love in World War II between a Jewish woman working with the underground and a Nazi officer’s wife, Max Färberböck’s film is as devastating as it is beautiful. Maria Schrader stars as the defiant Felice Schragenheim, who meets Juliane Köhler’s German housewife Lilly Wust and instantly falls in love with her. The unabashed Felice begins a silent affair, at first sending flowers to Lilly and signing the card as “Jaguar.” Eventually, Lilly falls for her “Jaguar.” An incredibly impassioned story that depicts women fearless in their love, the film offers moments of sheer joy as well as utter terror, as the love affair is doomed from the start. —T.E.G.
139. Fire (1996): Directed by Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, Fire, one of the first major films to portray a romance between two women in India, stoked real-life flames upon its release in its country of origin in 1998. Hundreds of protestors stormed movie theaters across the South Asian nation, causing physical damage and driving away audiences. The protests forced many venues to end screenings. But critics around the world praised Fire for its courage in portraying the relationship between Radha (Shabana Azmi) and Sita (Nandita Das), who find refuge from their unhappy marriages and a repressive, male-dominated Indian culture in each other’s arms. The film eventually opened in India without further incident, and its release sparked an international conversation about LGBT rights. —D.R.
140. Bridegroom (2013): In 2011, Tom Bridegroom, 29, accidentally fell off a roof in Los Angeles and died. His untimely death sparked a chain of events that led his partner of more than five years, Shane Bitney Crone, to create a YouTube video that chronicled the legal and social barriers that prevented him from attending the funeral of the man he loved. The video, titled “This Could Happen to You,” went viral, and its success inspired Crone to produce Bridegroom, an 80-minute documentary that further explores the couple’s story. Directed by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (Designing Women), the film went on to win the Audience Award for Best Documentary Film at the Tribeca Film Festival and has since been televised on OWN and Netflix. It is a widely acclaimed love story that, for many, offers a compelling case for the necessity of marriage equality. —D.R.
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