"Before Night Falls"
Javier Bardem earned his first Academy Award-nomination with his searing turn as openly gay poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel's drama, based on the Arenas' autobiography of the same name. The film marked a more accomplished follow-up to Schnable's "Basquiat' biopic, foregoing that film's showy flashiness to let Bardem's performance take center stage and pay proper tribute to Arenas, who took his own life in 1990 (he was suffering from AIDS) after leaving Cuba for the U.S. following years of persecution. Be on the lookout for Johnny Depp in two great cameo roles as a transvestite who smuggles Arenas' manuscripts out of prison, and as a manipulative prison guard. [Nigel M. Smith]
The late Derek Jarman made a remarkable amount of challenging, bold contributions to cinema, LGBT or otherwise. But it was his twelfth and final feature -- 1993's "Blue" -- that as will always stand as one of the more haunting and profound cinematic experiences I've encountered. Released just four months before his AIDS-related death, "Blue" consists of a single shot of a saturated blue color filling the screen, working as a background to a soundtrack of voices (including John Quentin, Nigel Terry and Tilda Swinton, as well as Jarman himself), sound effects and music. Together, they work to convey an autobiographical portrait of Jarman, perhaps most notably his experiences with AIDS -- both literally and allegorically. You can and should watch it in its entirety below:
“Boys Don’t Cry”
Released a year after the murder of Matthew Shephard, Kimberly Peirce’s “Boys Don’t Cry” depicts the true story of Brandon Teena, a transgendered man who was raped and beaten to death after his friends discovered he was biologically female. Hilary Swank is remarkable as the hopeful and tough young Brandon, and she rightly received an Academy Award for her performance. The film’s prolonged sequences and use of time lapse photography give it a hallucinatory feel; Peirce says specific scenes were inspired by films like “Raging Bull” and “The Wizard of Oz.” But the film’s greatest achievement is in its presentation of the love story between Brandon and his girlfriend, Lana (Chloe Sevigny), who accepts Brandon the way he is. “Boys Don’t Cry” argues for the importance of being true to oneself despite tremendous adversity. [Devin Lee Fuller]
As this list proves, LGBT cinema existed long before “Brokeback Mountain,” but Ang Lee’s film is arguably the first gay romance to ever break through to the mainstream culture. Based on a short story by Annie Proulx, “Brokeback Mountain” stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as cowboys who fall in love while herding sheep in the summer of 1963. Transcending its label as “the gay cowboy movie,” the film had both straight and gay audiences alike lining up outside of theaters. Ledger gives an iconic performance as Ennis, infusing his character with a stoic pathos and longing. The film rightly received eight Academy Award nominations, and many cried foul at Hollywood’s perceived homophobia after it lost Best Picture to the racism drama “Crash.” But the importance of “Brokeback Mountain” surpasses awards recognition; it proved to mainstream America that a gay romance could be just as vital, rewarding and heart breaking as any other. [Devin Lee Fuller]