(*homocinematically inclined)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: LGBTQ Movies & Viewers Taken Seriously in 2018

Comedian-actor Kevin Hart had no sooner agreed to host this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, to be held on February 24th, than he was forced to step down due to pressure over anti-gay jokes and comments he made in the past. This sent a strong message in the middle of Hollywood’s awards season that LGBTQ movies, filmmakers, and viewers are being taken more seriously than ever. It’s about time.

A number of 2018 movies currently nominated or being considered for awards by the Academy, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, movie industry guilds, and critics’ groups have LGBTQ content or other relevance. Most prominent among these are the Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, the true story Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and the somewhat twisted historical epic The Favourite.

British actor Richard E. Grant is enjoying a long-overdue time in the awards spotlight thanks to his enjoyable turn in Can You Ever Forgive Me? Grant has been a familiar face to moviegoers for decades courtesy of his memorable performances in such diverse films as Hudson Hawk, Gosford Park, Logan, Withnail & I, and Spice World. He has already won multiple awards for his latest and is a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor.

Grant plays gay in Can You Ever Forgive Me? opposite Melissa McCarthy, another awards favorite this year. McCarthy incarnates lesbian writer Lee Israel, who began forging letters by such collectible, quotable favorites as Cole Porter, Marlene Dietrich, Fanny Brice, and Dorothy Parker to make ends meet after Israel’s writing career stalled. McCarthy is currently up for the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama as well as a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Although Bohemian Rhapsody divided both critics and LGBTQ moviegoers, most were unanimous that star Rami Malek nailed his role as Freddie Mercury, the late, bisexual leader of famed rock band Queen. He is also a current Golden Globe nominee for Best Actor in a Drama and a SAG nominee for Best Actor in a Leading Role. In fact, all the actors in Bohemian Rhapsody were nominated by SAG as Best Cast in a Motion Picture. This was something of a surprise, since the Best Cast award is essentially SAG’s version of Best Picture, but it bodes well for Malek’s and the film’s Oscar chances. While Bohemian Rhapsody was largely helmed by out director Bryan Singer, he was replaced late in production as a result of sexual abuse allegations against him.

Finally, The Favourite has definitely emerged as an awards season favorite. This history-inspired dramedy involves England’s Queen Anne and two women literally battling for her affections. Actresses Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are equally fantastic in these roles, and all have been equally nominated for Golden Globe and SAG awards. I expect such will be the case with this year’s Academy Award nominations (to be announced on January 22nd) as well.

I also fully expect our reigning LGBTQ goddess, Lady Gaga, to be among the Oscar nominees for Best Actress as a result of her riveting performance in Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star is Born. It will be her first nod for acting but she was previously nominated for Best Original Song. All in all, this Hollywood awards season is shaping up to be the gayest ever!

My Picks for the Best & Worst of 2018:

A number of my fellow critics consider last year so strong cinematically that they have been expanding their traditional top ten lists to include 20 and even 30 films. I won’t go that far, but here are my top 10+ for 2018. As I have occasionally done in the past, I’ve incorporated some additional films I considered equally great and that share similar genres or themes. It was an impressive year for biographies, autobiographies and documentaries in particular.

1) First Man (Universal). Talented director Damien Chazelle, an Oscar winner for 2016’s La La Land, followed up with this equally dazzling but sadly underseen biography of astronaut Neil Armstrong. Ryan Gosling gives an almost meditative performance as the famed first man on the moon, with a very strong turn by British actress Claire Foy as his down-to-earth wife. First Man is grippingly visceral while also unexpectedly emotional in its exploration of marriage, grief and heroism.

2) Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Fox Searchlight). Another enlightening biopic though about more obscure figures. I went in knowing very little about lesbian writer-turned-literary forger Lee Israel (a superb, serious turn by Melissa McCarthy) and her gay collaborator Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). One of the rare, transformative movies where I ended up loving two characters I initially despised. I expect most viewers will come out feeling the same.

3) Tea with the Dames (Sundance Selects) and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Focus Features). These lovely, insightful and even inspiring documentaries about British actresses Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, and Joan Plowright as well as beloved U.S. children’s TV host Fred Rogers, respectively, feel more like sitting in a room relaxing with old friends than watching a movie. Delightful.

4) A Moment in the Reeds (Wild Beast Productions). The best gay love story I’ve seen in several years (sorry, Call Me By Your Name) also deals with potent issues of ethnicity and family. Set in his native Finland, writer-director Mikko Makela weaves a sensual, timely tale. It is also one of the first queer films to be made in Finland.

5) The Favourite (Fox Searchlight) and Vice (Annapurna Pictures). Two powerful yet thoroughly entertaining historical dramas about political machinations and the abuse of power. The Favourite adds lesbian intrigue and fabulously bitchy dialogue to Queen Anne’s 18th-century court, while Vice explores the unexpected rise to power of former US Vice President Dick Cheney (an amazing performance by Christian Bale).

6) Roma (Netflix). Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuaron’s black and white valentine to his Mexican upbringing and, in particular, the young housekeeper/nanny who helped care for him. It is deeply personal, so sad and joyful in equal measure but beautifully made.

7) Eighth Grade (A24). A devastatingly accurate yet hilarious and ultimately poignant look at early adolescence via one special girl, Kayla. Writer-director Bo Burnham makes an impressive, sensitive feature film debut as does teen actress Elsie Fisher. In the end it will have viewers joyfully proclaiming “Gucci!”

8) Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Paramount Pictures) and Ready Player One (Warner Bros). The two most purely exciting, visually dazzling big-screen adventures of the year. Fallout finds Tom Cruise and his compatriots in great form in their latest series entry, while Steven Spielberg successfully returned to his fantasy roots with the “rad,” 1980’s-referencing Ready Player One.

9) If Beale Street Could Talk and Sorry to Bother You (both from Annapurna Pictures). Out of a significant year for black-themed films and African-American filmmakers (see also Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman), these were the standouts for me. Though very different from one another in time period and tone, they offer bracing glimpses into black people’s relationships and cultural impact then and now.

10) Christopher Robin and Mary Poppins Returns (both from Walt Disney Pictures). Both of these wonderful family films are nostalgic and sentimental in just the right doses. Resurrecting Winnie the Pooh, in CGI form, and the magical “practically perfect” nanny, in Emily Blunt form, proved a masterstroke. There is also a significant amount of gay talent behind the scenes of Mary Poppins Returns, including director-choreographer Rob Marshall plus songwriter-partners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

The worst movie-watching experiences of 2018 for me were downright painful. Here they are in alphabetical rather than dishonorable order:

  • Book Club (Paramount Pictures). Although it was a hit among the 60 and over crowd, this alleged comedy was rarely funny and wasted the talents of its lead quartet of prominent, award-winning actresses: Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, Candice Bergen and Diane Keaton.
  • First Reformed (A24). I’m a religious person as well as a longtime fan of writer-director Paul Schrader but I found his latest spiritual odyssey bewildering and distasteful, despite a fine soul-searching performance by Ethan Hawke.
  • Halloween (Universal Pictures). A completely unnecessary sequel to/reboot of the original 1978 horror classic. I was surprised by how well both fellow critics and audiences took to this thoroughly predictable, non-innovative piece of schlock.
  • Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (Universal Pictures). Not even Cher could enliven another unnecessary, strained sequel for which, to my knowledge, not even gay ABBA fans were clamoring.
  • Pacific Rim: Uprising (Universal Pictures, again!) I really liked the first entry in this wannabe sci-fi series but this weak sequel full of uninteresting, stock characters likely killed off any further kaiju vs. giant robot spectacles.

By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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