The Advocate's 27 Favorite Films of Outfest 2014

By Daniel Reynolds and Jase Peeples

Originally published on Advocate.com July 07 2014 7:00 AM ET

Ghosts. Olympians. Matt Bomer in Space. The 32nd annual Outfest Los Angeles LGBT film festival, which kicks off Thursday with its opening gala and screening of Life Partners, truly has something for everyone in its sexy, scary, star-filled lineup of over 150 films. For your consideration, The Advocate has compiled a list of 27 of our favorites showing in this year’s festival, which runs July 10-20. Check them out on the following pages, and see the full selection here.

 

Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy
Friday, July 11, 5 p.m. at Harmony Gold

As “America’s Gaysian Sweetheart,” comic performer Alec Mapa has forged a funny and fruitful career on shows like Ugly Betty and the Logo stand-up comedy series Wisecrack, in which he draws material from his life in show business and his experiences as a gay Filipino-American. However, his greatest challenge and accomplishment to date is featured in his latest documentary, Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy. Directed by Andrea James, Baby Daddy tells the story of Mapa and his partner, Jamison Hebert, as they foster and then adopt their son, Zion. Framed by scenes of life in their L.A. home, the film centers on Mapa’s recent show at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, where he shares the trials and joys of foster care and parenthood with humor, wisdom, and love.

 

An Honest Liar
Thursday, July 17, 5 p.m. at DGA 2

Throughout his lifetime, magician James “The Amazing” Randi has dedicated his life to exposing phonies and frauds. From so-called psychic Uri Geller to faith healers like Peter Popoff, Randi has targeted those who have sought to swindle the public with moneymaking schemes that prey on their faith and belief in the supernatural. His work in this field even won him a MacArthur Fellowship in 1986.

Through archival footage and interviews with Randi and his contemporaries, the documentary An Honest Liar follows the magician-turned-skeptic from his beginnings as the heir to Houdini to present day. But the emotional crux of the film turns around the illusions constructed by Randi, who, after a lifetime in the closet, came out in 2010 at the age of 81. The film’s revealing final act centers on Randi’s partner, Jose Alvarez, whose own secret shifts the spotlight to an issue that is vital for the LGBT community and beyond.

 

Appropriate Behavior
Tuesday, July 15, 7 p.m. at DGA 1

In Appropriate Behavior bisexual Brooklynite Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) finds herself thrown into the dating scene after a blistering breakup with her girlfriend Maxine. But the rules of courtship are not always clear or easy, and Shirin flounders throughout a series of failed dates with both men and women. The experience shines a light on her own issues that she must resolve, including coming to terms with her Iranian parents about her sexuality. Written by Akhavan, this Outfest centerpiece film is a hilarious and thoughtful portrait of a woman torn between society, self, and family in determining what exactly constitutes “appropriate behavior.”

 

 

Back on Board: Greg Louganis
Saturday, July 19, 11 a.m. at DGA 1

Director Cheryl Furjanic explores the public triumphs and personal struggles of gay Olympic champion Greg Louganis as he reemerges on the world stage to combat prejudice, promote tolerance, and return to the diving world after a long period of absence in the candid documentary film Back on Board: Greg Louganis. The film follows Louganis over a three-year period as he battles with financial troubles, returns to the sport he once dominated but was not welcomed in, and reflects on the choices, relationships, and missed opportunities of his career. This intimate portrait of the trailblazing athlete reveals the complicated life of an American legend whose talents sparked global interest in the sport of diving and whose courage and perseverance as an HIV-positive man moved a nation.

 

Bad Hair
Sunday, July 13, 7:30 p.m. at Harmony Gold

While many queer films focus on the coming-of-age experience, it is rare to see one tackle the awareness of identity as early as the age of 9, and rarer still to see that story from the point of view of a working-class family in Venezuela. Bad Hair, which was acclaimed at the Toronto and San Sebastián International Film Festivals, has done so with excellence. The drama of the film spins around the tension between Marta (Samantha Castillo), who cleans houses for the wealthy after losing her job as a security guard, and her son Junior (Samuel Lange), whose obsession with hair and beauty defy his mother’s conception of how a man should behave. Directed and written by Mariana Rondon, Bad Hair sets its story of sexual awakening against the crumbling backdrop of the failed social reforms of Hugo Chavez, providing a fascinating intersection of private and public turmoil. Its spare yet powerful scenes are largely improvised by its actors, signaling the great talents at play.

BFFs
Friday, July 11, 7 p.m. at Harmony Gold

No relationship is perfect. Especially when one is faking that relationship to attend an all-expense-paid couples retreat, as in the case of Kat (Tara Karsian) and Samantha (Andrea Grano). After letting chance decide their destiny by flipping a coin, the pair of longtime friends, who both can’t seem to make a relationship with a man last, pretend to be a longtime lesbian couple in order to get some relaxation and relationship tips at a New Age therapeutic weekend. And it doesn’t hurt that the real-life partners who are venting their problems, both gay and straight, can provide some comic relief. But as they go through exercises like communicating via animal noises, cooperative obstacle courses, and mandatory massage sessions, both Kat and Samantha begin to wonder if their fake affection for each other might have some truth in it after all. Written by its leads, BFFs is both humorous and thoughtful in its exploration of the vicissitudes of the heart. For better or worse, it also refreshingly places gay and straight couples on the same playing field in the game of love.

 

Boulevard
Sunday, July 13, 6:30 p.m. at DGA 1

A tale of a middle-aged man’s sexual awaking unfolds in director Dito Montiel’s Boulevard. Robin Williams stars as Nolan Mack, a man who has played it safe his entire life by working in the same bank branch for decades and is comfortable living in the same house with his wife, Joy (Kathy Baker), in separate bedrooms.  However, Mack soon finds his world is shaken to its core when he enters into an unsettling relationship with Leo, a young hustler.

 

Club King
Monday, July 14, 9:30 p.m. at DGA 1

From New York to Los Angeles, Mario Diaz has left an indelible mark on gay nightlife. Founder of the notorious East Village bar The Cock, Diaz also started some of the most-talked about parties on the scene, including BFD at Fubar. Club King is a behind-the-scenes look at, well, the scene, providing candid interviews with bon vivants like Jackie Beat, Justin Vivian Bond, and the go-go boys who keep patrons coming back for more. Come early to the screening for a reception, and venture over to Fubar afterward for Diaz’s birthday celebration, where one can get a taste of what it means to be club royalty.

 

Cupcakes
Sunday, July 13, 4 p.m., DGA 1

Eytan Fox, who directed the somber war drama Yossi & Jagger, performs a 180-degree directorial turn in his most recent project, Cupcakes. The Israeli film is a joyous musical comedy that begins when five women and a gay man become accidental contestants in a Eurovision-like competition after a video of one of their impromptu performances goes viral. It’s a candy-colored confection, drawing its exuberance from the spirit of old-school musicals mixed with modern sass a la Pitch Perfect. There’s not much concern for complexity or character development, but for those looking for an escapist romp in a feel-good flick, Cupcakes is the perfect treat.

 

Dior and I
Friday, July 11, 7 p.m. at DGA 1

Fans of fashion will fall head over designer heels for Dior and I, a behind-the-seams look into the storied brand. Documentarian Frédéric Tcheng (Valentino: The Last Emperor) trains his lens on the drama following the ascension of designer Raf Simons to the position of Christian Dior’s creative director. In a flurry akin to a high-stakes Project Runway challenge, Simons has only eight weeks to roll out his first fashion line, and he and his staff, including right-hand man Pieter Mulier, are tasked with realizing his creative vision while also keeping in mind the brand and the business. Weaved into the film is archival footage of Christian Dior articulating the divide in his life between his identity as a man and an icon, and Tcheng layers this struggle on Simons in his present-day role. Will the critics still adore Dior at Simons’s runway show? Is Simons a worthy heir? Fashion aficionados may already know, and the rest will enjoy the ride of seeing an haute couture line come together, one stitch at a time. And don’t miss the after-party at the Abbey.
The Foxy Merkins
Saturday, July 19, 7 p.m. at DGA 1

For the uninitiated, a merkin is pubic wig, which, as one character in The Foxy Merkins points out, first rose to popularity among prostitutes in the olden days as a means of masking venereal diseases and preventing lice. It’s a bizarre yet appropriate symbol for the film, which follows the journey of Margaret (Lisa Haas), a down-on-her-luck lesbian trying to learn how to be a sex worker in modern-day New York. As a bespectacled, bewildered, and Rubenesque character, Margaret is the antithesis of the popular image of a prostitute, a circumstance from which much of the film’s humor is derived. She is shown the ropes by Jo, a sexy and more street savvy streetwalker, who teaches her, for example, how to pick up Republican clients in front of Talbots. Filled with running gags and tongue-in-cheek nods to hustler films like Midnight Cowboy or even last year’s Outfest star Concussion, The Foxy Merkins is a refreshingly new comedic take on the world’s oldest profession.

 

Girltrash: All Night Long
Saturday, July 19, 4:30 p.m. at Redcat

The long-awaited, hard-rocking, steamy musical that is Girltrash: All Night Long is available for your viewing pleasure on the big screen. This must-see lesbian rock-and-roll romance, directed by Alex Martinez Kondrake and written by D.E.B.S.screenwriter Angela Robinson, features Kate French, Rose Rollins, Mandy Musgrave, Gabrielle Christian, Clementine Ford, Malay Rivera Drew, Michelle Lombardo, and Lisa Reiffel. The film, brought to you by LGBT film nonprofit Power Up Films, documents one epic night where the ensemble cast goes looking for love, lust, and rock stardom, but finds rival bands, a lovesick babe, a club-swinging badass (The L Word's Rose Rollins), sleazy con artists, and coke-snorting sorority sisters.

 

Jamie Marks Is Dead
Friday, July 11, 9:30 p.m. at DGA 1

One of the more terrifying entries in this year’s Outfest, Jamie Marks Is Dead is a ghost story that also serves as an allegorical tale of LGBT youth in small-town America. When the body of high school outcast Jamie Marks is discovered near a river, the life of Adam (Cameron Monaghan, Shameless) changes forever, particularly when he spies Jamie’s ghost (Noah Silver, The Borgias), shivering and nearly naked in the distance. Despite warnings from his love interest Gracie (Morgan Saylor, Homeland), Adam closes this corporeal divide, bridging a relationship between the living and the dead that is filled with longing and a love that dare not speak its name. Under Carter Smith’s direction, the film’s dramatic grip is tightened by its bleak and beautiful cinematography and a paper-moon performance by Liv Tyler, who, as Adam’s emotionally and physically crippled mother, embarks on her own curious relationship with a woman who almost kills her, played by Judy Greer.

 

Kate Bornstein Is a Queer & Pleasant Danger
Saturday, July 12, 7:15 p.m. at Redcat

Directed by Sam Feder, Kate Bornstein Is a Queer & Pleasant Danger is an in-depth portrait of one of the LGBT community’s most captivating trans pioneers, Kate Bornstein. As the author of Gender Outlaw, a groundbreaking manifesto on gender and sexuality, Bornstein has established herself as a leading voice in gender theory. The documentary, based on her memoir of the same name, features Bornstein as she reflects on activism and writing as well as her experiences as a former Scientologist, her battle with cancer, and a lifetime bridging the gender divide.

 

Life Partners
Thursday, July 10, 8 p.m., Orpheum Theatre (Opening Night Gala)

There's something for audience of all persuasions to love in Partners, a bra-mance comedy that showcases the friendship between two women — one lesbian, the other straight. As best friends since childhood, Paige (Community's Gillian Jacobs) and Sasha (Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester) are navigating adulthood together in a joyful state of prolonged adolesence, drinking cheap wine and watching marathons of America's Next Top Model. However, the arrival of a suitor for Sasha, played by Adam Brody, changes the dynamic of this relationship, and Paige embarks on a series of less successful romantic ventures. Gabourey Sidibe, Abby Elliott, Julie White, and Kate McKinnon in a cameo round out the talented cast of a hilarious film that shows the virtues and vicissitudes of love and friendship.

Lilting
Wednesday, July 16, 7 p.m., DGA 1

Death has a strange way of bringing the living together, and such is the case in Lilting, a quiet yet powerful film about the relationship between a young British gay man (Ben Whishaw, Skyfall) and the Chinese-Cambodian mother (Cheng Pei-pei, Crouching Tiger) of his late partner. Directed by Hong Khaou, who himself was born in Cambodia but now lives in London, Lilting forces its two central characters to bridge cultural, generational, and even language barriers, as they communicate through an interpreter, to share their grief and love of the departed, who was unable to come out to his mother in life.

 

Match
Saturday, July 12, 1:30 p.m. at DGA 1

Patrick Stewart delivers a superb performance as Julliard ballet instructor Tobias in director Stephen Belber’s Match. Tobias’s swinging sex life in the ’60s — when the young dancer had numerous male and female lovers — takes center stage when the Julliard instructor agrees to be interviewed by doctoral candidate Lisa (Carla Gugino) and her husband, Mike (Matthew Lillard). The encounter leaves each of them changed forever as it becomes apparent none of these three people are who they appear to be in this witty and poignant drama.

 

My Prairie Home
Sunday, July 13, 6 p.m., Redcat

A darling at Sundance, My Prairie Home is a musical documentary about Rae Spoon, a transgender singer who embarks on a tour in Canada via a Greyhound bus. Throughout the movie, striking landscapes, nightclub venues, and Spoons’s own songs help illustrate the artist’s journey of self-discovery, from a conservative religious upbringing to present-day musings on life and love. Directed by Chelsea McMullan, My Prairie Home is a valentine to the power of song and memory, and a must-see glimpse into the life of an artist.

 

Naomi Campbel
Tuesday, July 15, 5 p.m. at DGA 2

This is not a documentary about the world-renowned supermodel. Rather, this film, titled Naomi Campbel, It’s Not Easy to Become a Different Person, is an intimate and often startling portrait of Yermen, a transgender woman living in Chile. Directed and written by Nivolas Videla and Camila Donoso, the project is an amalgam of documentary and fiction that follows Yermen, a poor tarot card reader, as she attempts to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Based on the real-life experience of its lead actress, Paula Dinamarca, the camera follows Yermen as she applies to be a cast member of a reality television show, which promises to pay her medical bills in exchange for an extreme invasion of her privacy throughout the procedure. As Yermen waits to learn if she’s been accepted on the show, the filmmakers paint a stark scene of Yermen’s life: the neighbors who call her a witch, the gangs of dogs and men that haunt the streets by night, and Naomi Campbel — another candidate for the surgery, who dreams of one day looking like the supermodel, and who disappears, inexplicably and frighteningly, by the film’s conclusion. Although the raw footage, minimal dialogue, and experimental nature of Naomi Campbel may put off some viewers, the film will cast a spell on many, who will value it for its haunting commentary on life as an outsider in South America.

 

Out in the Night
Friday, July 18, 5 p.m. at DGA 2

In 2006 a group of African-American lesbians were arrested after an encounter in downtown Manhattan with a straight man who made unwanted sexual advances resulted in the man’s hospitalization for a minor injury. The sensationalized media coverage of the incident painted the group as a vicious gang, and several of the women received prison sentences that were disproportionate to the nature of the incident. Directed by Blair Doroshwalther, Out in the Night is an important documentary that tells the story from the point of view of these women. Through interviews, Doroshwalther demonstrates how sexism, racism, and homophobia resulted in failures by both the government and media in serving justice.

Regarding Susan Sontag
Saturday, July 12, 4 p.m. at DGA 1

Filmmaker Nancy Kates presents an in-depth portrait of Susan Sontag, the renowned writer of groundbreaking works like the essay “Notes on ‘Camp,’” Illness as Metaphor, On Photography, and The Volcano Lover. Regarding Susan Sontag traces Sontag’s writing and filmmaking career from her high school newspaper through the publishing of these major works. It also provides insight into her private life through interviews with contemporaries and former partners, including her ex-husband David Rieff with whom she had a son, and details her relationships with women in the latter part of her life. It’s a loving ode to the “Dark Lady of American Letters” that also does not hesitate to show its subject’s flaws.

 

Salvation Army
Sunday, July 13, 1:30 p.m. at DGA 1

As a coming-of-age film about a gay Muslim in Morocco, Salvation Army presents alluring subject matter and an experience that may be unfamiliar to many Western audiences. But the film, which is based on the life of its director Abdellah Taia, is original in many other respects. The actor who portrays young Abdellah is a quiet and often heartbreaking force as a boy searching for identity. Within his own home, the war between the sexes threatens to split the family apart, and in the streets of Casablanca, older men catch his eye and lead him by the hand to dark corners and out-of-sight locales. His obsession with his older brother, a French-speaking aspiring intellectual, shows how incest has layered into his desires, a scent Abdellah inhales deeply when he secretly embraces his sibling’s bed sheets or stays up all night picking off flower petals, whispering, “He loves me, he loves me not.” Whereas the filmmaker’s novel, on which Salvation Army is based, sees this relationship develop to sexual fruition, the film wisely keeps the apple just out of reach. And when the plot jumps 10 years ahead in time, to an older Abdellah who has newly arrived in Geneva, Switzerland, the emotions have both matured and complicated, and the ending, while unresolved, is rewarding for its poetry and honesty.

 

The Skeleton Twins
Saturday, July 12, 7 p.m. at Harmony Gold

Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader star in The Skeleton Twins, a comedy about a woman and her gay twin that is generating a lot of buzz. Milo (Hader) returns to live with his estranged sister Maggie (Wiig) after breaking up with his boyfriend. After years apart, he is disturbed to find his sibling leading a seemingly perfect life of domestic bliss along with her Pollyanna fiancé (Luke Wilson). Things are not as they seem, however, and Milo gets under Polly’s skin to reveal the tensions brewing just beneath. Directed by Craig Johnson, The Skeleton Twins has already picked up the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance for its heartwarming and heartbreaking comedy about the relationship between two siblings on the brink.

 

 

Space Station 76
Sunday, July 20, 8 p.m. at Ford (Closing Night Gala)

Space Station 76, the final film of the 2014 film festival, is a fun, nostalgia-flavored romp through outer space, which will be appropriately screened at Outfest’s Closing Night Gala “under the stars” in a historic outdoor venue, the Ford Theatre. Actor Jack Plotnick (Girls Will Be Girls, Gods and Monsters) makes his directorial debut with this adaptation of the L.A. stage hit that perfectly blends the absurdist view of 1970s sci-fi with tragedy and farce. Boasting a galaxy-class cast that includes Matt Bomer, Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson, and Marisa Coughlan, the story takes a hyper-space jump into hilarity when Jessica (Tyler) arrives on Space Station 76, unleashing numerous revelations among the crew from the failing marriage of the outpost’s mechanic whose wife is falling for a robot to the truth about the closeted captain (Wilson).

 

To Be Takei
Sunday, July 20, 1 p.m. at DGA 1

Actor, activist, Internet sensation, inspiration; George Takei has been all of these and more throughout his life and the documentary To Be Takei takes a fascinating look at the 77-year-old icon’s amazing journey. Directed by Jennifer M. Kroot and Bill Weber, the entertaining and moving film juxtaposes the demands of Takei and his husband/business partner Brad’s daily life alongside stories of Takei’s childhood spent in a U.S. internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II to his turn in the groundbreaking role of Sulu on the original Star Trek TV series to his rise as an Internet phenomenon with millions of followers and beyond.

 

Tom at the Farm
Saturday, July 19, 9:30 p.m. at DGA1

Called “a kinky film noir” by Variety, Tom at the Farm stars and is directed by the 24-year-old French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan, who channels both Hitchcock and Tennessee Williams in this psychological thriller. Adapted from the acclaimed play by Michel Marc Bouchard, the film follows Tom, a grieving copywriter who travels to the Quebec countryside for the funeral of his partner. To his surprise, the family is ignorant of his existence, and Tom begins a game of cat-and-mouse with a household that has dark secrets of its own. The suspense is heightened by an evocative orchestral score by Gabriel Yared and the terrifying beauty of the Canadian countryside.

 

And Don't Miss...

- Longtime Companion 25th Anniversary (Sunday, July 13, 5 p.m. at Harmony Gold)
- The Wizard of Oz 75th Anniversary Sing-a-long (Wednesday, July 16, 8:30 p.m. at Ford)
- Bad Movie Night With Drew Droege and Dave Holmes (Sunday, July 13, 9 p.m. at Redcat)
- Girls' Shorts (Friday, July 18, 9:30 p.m. at DGA 1; Sunday, July 20, 2:15 p.m. at DGA 2)
- Trans Shorts (Sunday, July 13, 4 p.m. at DGA 2; Friday, July 18, 7:15 p.m. at DGA 2)
- Boys' Shorts (Saturday, July 12, 11 a.m. at DGA 1; Saturday, July 19, 7:15 p.m. at DGA 2)
- Discussion With Cast and Crew of Amazon's Transparent (Saturday, July 19, 2 p.m. at DGA 2)
- Discussion With Cast and Crew of HBO's Looking (Saturday, July 12, 4:20 p.m. at DGA 2)

See the full schedule of films screening at Outfest 2014 here.

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