18. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
Characters: Bernadette, Tick (Mitzi), Adam (Felicia)
A film that attempted to rival Rocky Horror?! We think of Terrence Stamp as Zod telling Superman to kneel before him. Hugo Weaving was Agent Smith in The Matrix and Red Skull in Captain America. Guy Pearce has been an action star in several Hollywood films. Yet these three men of Australian decent as decked out in drag and take us on a whirlwind bus tour in Priscilla, the title vehicle. Stamp is Bernadette, a transsexual who has a cabaret act with drag queens Mitzi & Felicia.
The film centers on their desert bus ride from Sidney to the small desert town of Alice Springs to perform for Mitzi’s ex-wife’s resort. Along the way they face homophobia, as well as breakdowns (two things that probably are equally common). What is unique about the film, asides from the many obvious things (like the Oscar and BAFTA winning hair and makeup design) is that the film’s central character Bernadette is played straight.
The film acts as more of the story of middle age person getting by and trying to make one more successful show, rather than a strictly LGBT parade or memoir to the Pride movement. It also inspired an American drag queen film (To Wong Foo…) as well as midnight shows at the same Waverly theatre that showed Rock Horror.
17. Transamerica (2005)
Character: Bree Osbourne/Stanley Chuphak
Felicity Huffman delivered an Oscar nominated performance as Bree, a pre-op transgender awaiting male to female reassignment surgery. The problem is she just found out that she fathered a child, who’s now languishing in jail. Toby calls looking for Stanley, his birth father completely unaware Stanley is now Bree.
When Bree discovers Toby’s intentions to become a porn star, she decides to hide her identity and pose as a Christian case worker. After all, Bree is a conservative and doesn’t approve of Toby’s career path. Along the way the truth slowly comes out.
Maybe the film’s most poignant scene is when Bree visits her family in Arizona. They have zero approval of their son/daughter’s lifestyle choice (even though it’s not a choice). When wondering if her child is pre or post op, Bree’s mom grabs her crotch.
Roger Ebert wrote in his review, “To escape this family, a child might be willing to change not merely gender but species.” The film makes the point to show that someone’s sexuality and identity is something truly born with and not learned. It shows the time, patience and economic strain one must sometimes suffer to become who they were born to be.
16. Chasing Amy (1997)
Character: Alyssa Jones
This was my generation’s baptism by fire to all things gay and lesbian. Holden (Ben Affleck) meets and instantly falls in love with cool, fun Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams). Problem is Alyssa is into chicks to the chagrin of Holden and amusement of his best friend Banky (Jason Lee).
Banky and Alyssa reference Jaws by comparing scars they obtained giving oral sex. Banky and Holden argue and debate the possibilities of a possible relationship. Eventually Holden confesses his love for Alyssa who promptly starts dating him. Her past sexual musings eat away at Holden and their relationship while Banky stands both mocking and dealing with his own sexuality issues.
To call Alyssa a lesbian is kind of insulting to lesbians, as the belief is all they need is one good GUY to “convert” them to the hetero side. The really interesting character is Banky who watches his best friend Holden struggle with love, realizes his own sexuality and his protection of Holden is actually love in itself.
At the end of the film all three characters are apart but in a strange way free from the forced conventions they’ve created for themselves. Alyssa is actually a really sad character. She was an unsure sexually active young woman who allowed others to dictate her sexuality and experiences.
15. In & Out (1997)
Character: Howard Brackett
Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) is an influential English teacher who is honored by former student-now actor Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon). Drake just won the Oscar for playing a gay soldier and in a final word on stage, he thanks Mr. Brackett… and then OUTS him. Maybe poetically, In & Out came out the year Ellen Degeneres (this year’s Oscar host) came out to the public.
The problem for Howard in the film is that this is news to everyone, including and most of all Howard and his fiancée Emily (Joan Cusask). Suddenly all of Howard’s behaviors are scrutinized; his love of Streisand, poetry, and dancing. The media descends on him and he becomes a tabloid star much to his chagrin. Emily doesn’t know how to cope because she’s dealing with her own issues, including low self-esteem and weight problems.
The movie explores important themes, mostly one’s self-identity. Howard tries acting macho and tough when denying the allegations. When his buddies throw him a “Barbara Streisand movie marathon” as a Bachelor Party he flips out. In & Out, along with Ellen’s coming out made 1997 a watershed year in LGBT public relations.
A major star and motion picture both challenged America to look at each other differently. How would you react if someone went on TV and called you gay? Would you get furious and defend your “honor” as a heterosexual? By defending yourself would you go so far as to insult others accidentally or on purpose? 17 years later, celebrities coming out are still a big deal as is society’s acceptance of homosexuality.
14. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Characters: Sonny Wortzik & Leon Shermer
The early 1970s belonged to Al Pacino. He earned three Oscar nominations in consecutive years from 1972 – 1974 for playing the consummate male tough guy. He was Michael Corleone in the Godfather films and played the title role as Frank Serpico, a NYC cop who wouldn’t stray from the law. So it was so monumentally shocking when he took the role of Sonny, a gay bank robber in Sidney Lumet’s 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon.
Based on a true story, Sonny tries to rob a Brooklyn bank to pay for his boyfriend’s sex change operation. The results were an embarrassingly flubbed robbery attempt, a near half day standoff with the NYPD and the death of thankfully only one person, Sonny’s accomplice Sal played his Godfather brother, John Cazale. The cops try everything to get Sonny to give in, including bringing Leon there, who while on the phone confesses to Sonny that he was in Bellevue Hospital after a suicide attempt.
Here is another film showing the desperation of men who reject their sexuality to conform to societal conventions, marry and have children because that’s what is expected of them. This film, based on fact, shows an all-to-familiar trend; that of the person who recognizes their sexuality too late and whose story typically ends in tragedy.
The real life Sonny, John Wojtowicz, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the incident but only served 5. He used the money made from selling the rights to the film to fund the sex change operation on his wife, who then went by Elizabeth Eden. She died of complications from AIDS in 1987.
13. Bound (1996)
Characters: Corky & Violet
Bound is the Wachowskis’ debut film. Corky (Gena Gershon) is a recent parolee who moves into an apartment next door to low-end mobster Caesar and his floozy girlfriend Violet, a bubbly Jennifer Tilly. Violet is instantly attracted to Corky, and her courting of her is straight out of a cheap porno. It’s more than flirtation and experimentation. They are quickly having a full blown affair and plotting to steal $2 million in mob money. Of course their plan goes horribly wrong leading to whirlwind of strange and violent events.
Bound was an indie film that blossomed into somewhat of a cult classic and featured two mainstream (same sex) stars doing hot and heavy love scenes as well as outwitting and out-maneuvering the mob. I think Bound deserves credit for getting tons of teenage 90s girls to experiment with their sexuality and for showing that a same-sex couple, specifically lesbians can not only be beautiful, but bold and kick ass.