There are still 50-some shopping days til Christmas, but Hollywood's holiday season starts this Friday with the release of Disney’s animated Big Hero 6 and the sci-fi epic Interstellar. A number of these end-of-year releases are of particular interest to LGBT moviegoers.
The most prominent of these is The Imitation Game, which is scheduled to open in Los Angeles on November 28th and in other cities in mid-December. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch of the BBC’s Sherlock as Alan Turing, one of the 20th century’s greatest unsung heroes. Turing succeeded in cracking Nazi Germany’s seemingly-unbreakable Enigma machine codes by creating the world’s first computer. As a result, he is credited with shortening World War II by at least two years and saving millions of lives.
Turing was also gay during a time when homosexuality was still criminalized in Great Britain. He was arrested in 1952, convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to hormone therapy that basically served as chemical castration. Tragically, Turing ended up committing suicide at the age of 41. He received a posthumous pardon from Queen Elizabeth II just last year.
Cumberbatch gives a superb, ultimately heartbreaking performance and is considered a front runner for the Best Actor Academy Award along with fellow Brit Eddie Redmayne, who plays physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything (opening November 7th), and Birdman’s Michael Keaton. Through an excellent inter-cutting of time periods in The Imitation Game, we learn about Turing’s doomed first love with a fellow student in his all-boys boarding school.
Although Cumberbatch will be heard and not seen, his fans will also want to line up for both Penguins of Madagascar (out November 26th) and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (out December 17th). In the second, the actor reprises the voice of ferocious dragon Smaug in this final chapter of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the classic J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy. Returning with him are out master thespian Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf and gay faves Cate Blanchett, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Manu Bennett and Stephen Fry.
We gays love our movie musicals, and Santa is bringing not one but two for Christmas this year. Into the Woods, the long-awaited adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s take on classic fairy tales, will arrive on December 25th. Helmed by openly gay director-choreographer Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine), the film’s all-star roster includes Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine. Christine Baranski will likely be bitchy fun as Cinderella’s wicked stepmother.
Meanwhile, the beloved stage tuner Annie will be receiving its second big-screen treatment on December 19th. The tale of the little orphan who gradually warms a wealthy power broker’s heart has been updated from the Great Depression to modern-day NYC by Easy A writer-director Will Gluck, with contemporary covers of the original Tony Award-winning score that includes “Tomorrow” and “It’s a Hard Knock Life.” This new version also boasts a multi-ethnic cast headed by Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) with Jamie Foxx, Bobby Cannavale and Cameron Diaz as nasty Miss Hannigan.
An abundance of men in togas, loincloths and eye-liner will be on full display in Exodus: Gods and Kings, opening December 12th. Cinematic stylist Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator) directs this latest telling of the biblical epic in which Moses (Christian Bale) leads his fellow Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. Joel Edgerton plays the ruling pharaoh, Rameses, while Scott semi-regular Sigourney Weaver plays Rameses’ calculating mother. If nothing else, the film’s costumes and art direction are sure to be top-notch.
A final holiday offering with a predominantly male cast and likely gay appeal is Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, out on Christmas Day. It recounts the inspiring, true-life adventure of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who served in the US Air Force during World War II. He became a prisoner of war after his plane was shot down by the Japanese and endured several years of torture by a sadistic prison camp officer. Eventually liberated, Zamperini was a popular speaker until his death just this past summer at the age of 97. Relative newcomer Jack O’Connell is receiving awards buzz for his performance as the hero.
Preview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.