Things I Learned From the Movies Blogathon: On the Topic of Human Sexuality

Pre-Amble

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Now, I know that sounds like a dissertation title. However, the approach I’m planning on is a bit freeform, personal, and as all encompassing as I can be with such a huge topic.

I will limit myself somewhat as the nuance and intricacy of human sexuality this could be a much, much longer piece than it already is.

Introduction

The other day was National Coming Out Day. I didn’t post anything specifically about the day because as fate would have it I was actually doing quite a bit of other writing on that day. What I wanted to say on that day was probably more appropriate on a day like today then on the actual day.

A day such as that is not an appointment to be kept, to be either taken advantage of or passed over. It is a day of recognition, of noting those who have taken the step and come out; a day of sharing stories and support. When I was in the closet to the world I kept thinking some specific date or deadline would force my hand. It never did. I wasn’t ready until I was ready. So that was my message for the day: it’s not a compulsory day but rather a day that can be used to show those in struggle that it’s safer than they imagine to take that step.

Usually the blogathons I’ve signed up for have either been review-oriented or could be more academically approached. This one is different because it’s inherently personal, and the topic I selected made it impossible to stray from being candid. It’s about what you have taken away from seeing a movie. Frequently that thing may not even have been the intention the film has but no two people ever see the same film.

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Some of these films are LGBT films, some aren’t, but all make a singular point I didn’t take away from other films. Hopefully in underscoring many of these films I have a diverse cross-section. The pride flag is a rainbow for a reason: it’s all-inclusive and highlights differences. Too often underrepresented groups want the whole of their identity enveloped in a character or two, which is an impossible ask. We’re past the point of being merely stereotyped. Characters have to be themselves and not representative of all subsets and subcultures.

The Films

Where I Learned: A Little More About Myself Than I Wanted To

This Boy’s Life (1993)

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This Boy’s Life was a film I first saw on cable while in Brazil. I watched it with my uncle. It’s a captivating story of Toby (Leonardo DiCaprio) living with an intolerable stepfather (Robert De Niro), finding his voice as a writer, and trying to make it out of a toxic home life.

I was a teenager when I saw it and not entirely self-aware. At some point in the film the character of Arthur (Jonah Blechman) is introduced. Being set in the 1950s with the kind of character DeNiro is the homophobia directed toward him is quite overt and something he just has to deal with. This was probably the first film wherein I was consciously smitten with a male star and I identified with Arthur’s plight all the more for it, but I was self-conscious about it. So when the famous scene where Arthur steals a kiss on Toby’s cheek while they’re singing comes about I felt defensive. I felt as if my facial expression was readable or else some of my thoughts were. I felt the need to say something to cover.

“I’d punch him!” I blurted out.

My uncle without hesitation said “You don’t have to do that. You just say ‘I’m not like that.’”

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I was still a while away from admitting I was like that even to myself much less out loud, but the film and scene are important for a number of reasons. In that scene you can actually look at it a few ways: there is of course the obvious viewing it as a romantic overture. However, they are close and having a good time. Arthur is wordlessly expressing his gratitude of having someone to sing with. By midcentury homophobic fears had sufficiently strangled men showing affection for one another in verbal ways much less physically was verboten. And in that second reading it’s almost more important, but the lack of judgment that Tobias shows at that moment is important in and of itself and it’s a hallmark of many of these films either in isolated scenes or as a whole.

Where I Learned About: Coming Out of the Closet

Ellen (TV 1997)

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Yes, it’s a TV show but there are plenty of movies on the list, calm down. This was the first coming out I was ever conscious of. It was probably where I became familiar with the phrase and its meaning. I already liked this show, so I was curious to see how it would go, especially since it was announced beforehand. I think it went brilliantly.

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The sad reality of TV especially on a sitcom, where constancy is prized, it was too big a change for the show and maybe for the country as a whole at the time. I’m glad to see where we, ABC, and the Walt Disney Company has come since then.

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Where I Learned: Bisexuality is Real, Lust Can Make You Crazy, And How To Love The Femme Fatale

Basic Instinct (1992)

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Firstly, I must apologize that it needed to be phrased as such. Sadly, there is a stigma that exists that there is no such thing as bisexuality. Everyone’s path to self-discovery is slightly different. Mine included a time when I identified myself as bisexual. Growing up tremendously quiet and withdrawn in certain social situations most of my deductions about my true identity was all based on the internal battle with no real experience to draw any definitive conclusions from. In that time I experienced that stigma first hand. No sooner had I identified myself as bisexual I got the “lecture” in an online conversation about needing to decide, and you “can’t have the best of both worlds.” It was a rude awakening. When it came time when I had to face if I could make real emotional and physical commitments one way or the other is when I learned the truth for sure, no one’s ultimatum was going to do it for me.

Having been someone who always accepted that a duality is not only possible but real suspension of disbelief was easy in this film. The hurdle I really had to get over, involved what I learned most about how lust, and the adrenaline rush that Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) feels is what makes his character so vulnerable.

Before I ever watched a long-running horror franchise in full I saw this, it may be the first villain I ever embraced, thanks in large part to Sharon Stone’s performance. She fully embraces the femme fatale role.

Where I Learned: About the True Toll of AIDS

And the Band Played On (1993)

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For the most part I never fell victim to any falsehoods about HIV or AIDS. Magic Johnson’s announcement coming in my formative years was quite helpful. However, the mysterious, terrifying, and most tragically inactive (from a Federal Government standpoint) I was too young to realize what was happening. This film enlightened me.

Where I Learned About: Persecution in a Bygone Era

Paragraph 175 (2000)

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In outlining a dogma of hatred there has to be a public enemy number one designated. In the Nazi regime that target was the Jewish people. The Nazis were by no means singleminded in whom they considered enemies of true Aryanism. Estimates of Romani, or Gypsies as the more commonly referred to, deaths range from 220,000 to 500,000. Marzahn was the first concentration camp used for Gypsies. Many then went to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen, and Rävensbruck.

The documentary Paragraph 175 takes its title from the German Criminal Code at the time that discussed prohibitions on homosexuality. Since the persecuted could be of either gender and of any race or creed there aren’t precise statistics. However, documentation of state-sanctioned ostracism, arrest, and murder of homosexuals in the Third Reich following the edicts of Paragraph 175 are documented.

Such as:

  • Banning of Gay organizations like the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft run by Magnus Hirschfeld
  • Banning scholarly writing on Homosexuality and sexuality in general.
  • There were 100,000 people arrested as homosexuals; 50,000 were sentenced.
  • Homosexuality in any form was outlawed, but as per usual in these historic incidents the brunt of the force of said policies fell upon gay men.
  • The Gestapo compiled a list of homosexuals and forced many to conform to the “German Norm”

Where I Learned About: More People See False Morality

Léolo (1992)

Léolo (1992, Fine Line Features)

False morality is not an exclusively North American phenomenon, but we do have our own special brand. This was underscored in specificity as something other have noticed in this film where students never learned the English words for “those things” in class.

The topic comes up as Léo introduces us to their school’s guide to English; the omnipresent John and Mary. The schooling they were receiving was still very recitative and in this litany of body parts that the francophonic children learned there was a glaring absence: reproductive organs. Yet, Léo, and some of his other classmates had begun to discover these parts of their anatomy had other functions that were heretofore unknown to them.

So immediately Léo is complaining about the injustice of forced ignorance. In the guise of sheltering the children and preserving their fleeting innocence they are left to discover sex between “ignorance and horror,” as Léo says. And with no demystification from anyone elder in their life how else can this discovery occur. Surely, for some the repercussions of this will be minimal, but for others who knows how much of a negative impact this had on their development.

Where I Learned About: Transitioning

Transamerica (2005)

Transamerica (2006, IFC Films)

Aside from learning not to expect true greatness to be recognized by the Academy, even when nominated; this film opened my eyes on the emotional toll a person will pay when undergoing gender reassignment. Before and after the fact there will be grieving over lost time, opportunity, reclaiming identity, striving for a new future while incorporating a difficult past.

Aside from Felicity Huffman’s brilliance there is so much to experience and feel in this film.

Where I Learned About: Differentiating Sexual Identity and Orientation

Prodigal Sons (2008)

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For those who like axioms this one stuck out to me as I was seeking to learn more about what the transgendered experience is like, when being asked about why it is some people who have gender reassignment have heterosexual relationship and some have homosexual relationships, one woman answers perfectly and made me understand the magnitude of that journey; to paraphrase what she said: look in a mirror and ask yourself does what you see match how you feel inside? Most people will say yes. Look around and who are you attracted to.

That’s it. That is the difference between sexual identity and orientation. I have not in my life ever felt that specific emotion when looking at myself in a mirror. I never felt torn against myself for the very skin I was living in. I felt isolated, conflicted emotionally, and at war with where my mind and eyes would wander, and with whom I sought to be closer with amorously and amicably, but not something that fundamental.

Wherein: I Re-Examined a Film with the Topic of Sexuality in Mind (and Found a Road Less Traveled)

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

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After being reminded of the fact that the character of Buffalo Bill was a controversial one in the LGBT community took offense to – on a doc about it and I believe The Celluloid Closet (below) does touch on it. There were angry protests and signs about how the film seemed to vilify a transgendered person. When watching it with this in mind, I came away unconvinced, and not just because of my axiom of needing to understand that one character does not a whole demographic represent.

Bill’s situation is exacerbated by two factors: he was not given the go-ahead for surgery in psych evaluations and he specifically has sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies. Bill reacts violently and irrationally to the circumstances facing him. A vast majority won’t.

Looking at the film focusing merely on the aspect of sexuality there is no evidence, as it is played in this one film, that Clarice Starling is a heterosexual woman, aside from the assumption we’re societally conditioned to have that everyone is “straight unless proven gay.”

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To my mind this dubious, and nebulous nature of her sexual orientation is underscored by her subtle disregard for being objectified by men while jogging around the FBI’s training compound.
So if we’re viewing the film through a prism of presumed sexuality, and as I see it  there are heterosexuals, one lesbian, and one man longing for a sex-change. There are characters across the spectrum.

Where I Learned: Sometimes Film Theory Has To Go Away

Thelma and Louise (1991)

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Learning film theory can be dense and difficult to most. However, there is a value to it and learning to analyze in terms of interpretations that may not even even have been made by design. It can be the only to enjoy some filmmaking styles like certain New Wave films or works of magical realism. However, never is this subject harder to learn than when you just disagree with a theory.

I fully understand the visual cues and character roles and attitudes that lead those to argue that Thelma and Louise becomes a lesbian tale by proxy. The reason I don’t buy it is because I cringe at the notion that any movie that includes an “I don’t need no man” sentiment is promoting lesbianism (Frozen) or the very sexist attitude that treats lesbianism as a choice whereas being a gay man is a sentence.

Thelma and Louise is many things: flawlessly structured, brilliantly acted, a masterpiece, a tremendous feminist statement, up there with The Accused but it’s not a lesbian story. Not to me.

I fully get and support the notion that due to a lack of representation individuals in the LGBT community can cling to characters that were not designed to represent us, and that is a healthy and normal thing, one instance from my childhood that comes to mind is Flower in Bambi.flower

Ma Vie en Rose (1999)

Where I Learned: Being Comfortable Can Change How You See the World

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Cinematically speaking, in the opinions of most, children are seen as lower beings on the totem pole. Too often children are societal afterthoughts when decisions our leaders are making now are molding the very world they seek to inherit. So there can be a great amount of coddling and shielding in film and society. However, those with a sensitivity, understanding, and appreciation can make changes, insights and be of help.

Ma Vie en Rose tells a tale of a common childhood activity, cross-dressing, through the eyes of a character who takes it to an uncommon degree and finds more comfort and joy in it than most. Even with social norms varying from country-to-country, this film being set in France doesn’t change many of the reactions to this.

The beauty seen in the world through the eyes of its protagonist is a breath of fresh air and can be an eye-opener to many about acceptance as opposed to tolerance.

Where I Learned: About More Nuances of Sexuality and the False Equivalency Tranvestites Face

Dress to Kill (1999)

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For those who need simple axioms by which to live, and learn better whilst being entertained Eddie Izzard can be a great means of enlightenment. His discussion on “weirdo transvestites” and “executive transvestites” and him describing himself as a “male lesbian” are as insightful as they are funny.

Where I Learned: Stories of First Love Don’t Have to End in Tragedy or Heartbreak

North Sea Texas (2011)

Why I start with a book will soon make sense…

 

One of the defining books of my teenage years was The Bitterweed Path. It was among a select few books I read when I was visiting family in Brazil. My grandmother has accepted a trove of books in English that she had no use for as she reads solely in Portuguese and French.

It’s a wonderful tale of an unrequited, unfulfilled love at the turn of the 20th Century. It meant so much to me, in the edition I read, that I asked for it to be be specially bound like my Grandmother and aunt sometimes do. It was quite a chore for the bookbinder but still holds an honored place on my shelf. But not all stories need be like that to work.

North Sea Texas (2011, Strand Releasing)

Here’s a perfect example. After I learned that much to my surprise North Sea Texas was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award I wrote the following:

However, what North Sea Texas strikes upon, and what makes it work so well and so important is that it’s an idealistic tale. It reminds me of a debate I and a professor had about the Indian film Fire in college. His criticism of the film was that the revelation of, and the familial objection to, a sexual abuse situation was unrealistic. My assertion was “Why should it be?” If you’re trying to make a point be it societal, political or otherwise, there are times when the best way to make it is to seek out an ideal and illustrate it, rather than just illustrating that the problem exists.

 

Where I Learned: It Has Gotten Better, Or Stereotypes Used to be Much Worse

The Celluloid Closet (1996)

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Yes, the picture is an outlier, a maverick.

While you can note issues that still exist you cannot understand how the present is better without looking to the past. Documentaries like this and Reel Injun do well to highlight the way in which marginalized populations have been treated onscreen through the ages. Outliers are as noteworthy as patterns and improvements can be noted across the board with improvements and continued, diversified representations appearing frequently.

Where I Learned: You Don’t Even Need to Say the Word “Gay”

In the Family (2011, In the Family)

On the film In the Family I wrote the following:

the film could be handled differently and still work but then it would run the risk of pigeonholing itself as a gay film, or a racial film or a courtroom film, depending on how the plot unfolds. It could quickly become maudlin and melodramatic. However, in restraining its emotion, allowing it to build in its characters and its audience it creates a tremendously universal and human story that I’m sure many can relate to, whether it reflects anything in their life or not. One example of the restraint, and a litmus test of sorts for films with gay themes, is that the words “gay” or “homosexual,” or any pejorative variation thereof are not spoken. This is a clear choice it seems that underlines both the humanity of the story and the underlying hostilities and prejudices that exist.

Where I Learned: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Billy Elliot (2000)

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The musical adaptation of Billy Elliot amplifies virtually all the emotion in the tale. Aside from the obvious that dancing or liking it does not determine one’s sexual orientation, this one selection closes the circle from the beginning of the post.

Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) is not a poofter as the vernacular would state it. Despite the fact that Michael (Stuart Wells)  is not fully self-aware for a majority of the film, he is gay. Michael’s pain at losing his best friend when he goes off to the Royal Ballet School will be massive. There is no expunging it, it can scarcely be mitigated.

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Billy’s kiss on Michael’s cheek is not a pandering gesture by a character or in filmmaking terms. It’s a simple, beautiful act of friendship. One that on its own is tear-jerking but sets up the end of the film beautifully: Billy makes his professional debut. Of course, Michael is there. So glad are we that he is both happy and supporting his friend that the coincidence of his sitting next to Billy’s dad can be forgiven.

Bonus Features

A few titles, scenes, and moments that came to mind where words are a bit unnecessary; the images say it all. Enjoy!

Where I Learned: Cartoons Can Make You Feel Uncomfortable

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

 

Where I Learned: It’s Real Awkward When You Get What’s Going On in Some Performances at Madonna’s Blond Ambition Tour and You’re There With Your Dad

Where I Learned: Some People Are Gay, and That’s OK

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

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Where I Learned: Dancing Can Be Sexy 

Look Who’s Talking Too (1990)

Where I Learned: You Will Have To Come Out More Than Once Whether You Like It or Not. Thanks for Bearing With Me!

Coming Out (Part 2) by Troye Sivan

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Underrated Dramas: Benelux

Introduction

Recently I decided to partake in another great theme going on at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The last list I did there was for the Underrated Comedies series. As I anticipated, there was far more competition among movies I like to make the dramas list than the comedies list. So much so that I decided to post ancillary lists here before the big list debuts there. I wasn’t able to get all the contenders onto these lists but I was able to feature the most competitive regions (foreign films were one of my main foci). This is the second list, here is the first.

Underrated Dramas: Benelux

Benelux is the collective name for the region of Europe comprised of the Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg. I’ve yet to see a film made and set in Luxembourg, but I hope that changes soon.

In the past few years it seems that all the movies I’ve seen from the region are outstanding films, and I have not yet seen some more well-known ones (Such as Bullhead). Regardless the point needs to be made as only only two of the eight would not be considered recent.

In many cases, I’ve already written about these films before so the blurbs will be brief and there will be links included. This is as much a declaration of an emerging and vibrant region, that many seem to be overlooking; as it is a list.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Jeanne Dielman (1975, Janus Films)

I only ever heard of this film thanks to something I read in a booklet that accompanied a Bela Tarr film on DVD. The fact that it took that, to me, makes it an underrated film. It’s one that admittedly I had to give a second chance, but I’m glad I did.

Winter in Wartime (2008)

Winter in Wartime (2008, Sony Pictures Classics)

This is a film I viewed by myself, and it made quite a big dent in that year’s BAM Awards. This was an official selection for the Netherlands to the Academy Awards but took a while to get picked up and didn’t make a lot of noise when it did; it ought to have.

Ciske the Rat (1984)

Ciske the Rat (1984, Concorde Film)

This is a film that fits one of the criteria I set out of being out-of-print. To tell you of some of the levels in which it excels would be to give away too much, but it is a film both sensitive and shocking, that has endearing and infuriating moments that are all completely by design.

The Misfortunates (2009)

The Misfortunates (2009, NeoClassics Films)

The upbringing of an artist is a narrative that always intrigues me. More often than not these tales tell of less-than-pristine circumstances wherein the protagonist overcomes misunderstanding or even lack of support to excel against the odds. The Misfortunates doesn’t break that mold necessarily but it tells its tale well within it, as I tweeted:

“The Misfortunates” a well-acted, interestingly constructed, creatively told family drama about an author’s upbringing in Flanders.

Considering I saw this well ahead of the other films it could benefit greatly from a revisit as I’ve grown more accustomed to the sensibilities and aesthetics that seem to be the zeitgeist in the region at current.

North Sea Texas (2011)

North Sea Texas (2011, Strand Releasing)

While nominated at the most recent GLAAD Awards, it sadly didn’t walk away a winner there. I still assert that the test of time will treat this film very well. I included it in many ways in the 2012 BAM Awards, with significant wins and submitted it to OMIEs and LAMBs and will continue to champion it.

The remaining three could make some serious hay in the upcoming BAM Awards:

The Giants (2012)

The Giants (Kino Lorber, 2011)

In any year, there are those films that stand out, and continue to, long after they’ve been seen. This is one of them. This film recently came to not again for me after reading Mike Scott’s take. It’s a strong film, that treats adolescence in less-than-ideal-circumstances a very real way that doesn’t have sensationalized “grit” and doesn’t forsake soul. Highly, highly recommended.

Allez, Eddy! (2012)

Allez, Eddy! (2012, Benelux Film Distributors)

Creativity and quirkiness abound in this tale that transcends the usual trappings of underdog-sports-tales and children’s films to be rather artistic, humorous, moving and heartwarming.

Time of My life (2012)

Time of My Life (2012, Strand Releasing)

The most wondrous thing about this film is that from the outset you know how it’s going to end, but that doesn’t make it any less effective as a statement or as a piece of raw, human drama.

My Ballot: LIONs for LAMBs and The OMIEs

As I indicated earlier, when there are public or open to membership voting that I qualify for, I will write a post here to discuss my picks and to publicize the poll. I have included two polls here.

They are both run by the LAMB, the Large Association of Movie Blogs, of which I am a part, or a member thereof. The first is Lions for the Lambs, which seeks ranked submissions in various categories. Since that closely reflects my BAM Award selections, I also included my Omie choices where I more closely considered “Oscar-viability” in my decision-making process.

LIONS for the LAMBs

Best Film

1. Django Unchained
2. The Turin Horse
3. Anna Karenina
4. The Dark Knight Rises
5. North Sea Texas
6. The Cabin in the Woods
7. Les Misérables
8. The Dynamiter
9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
10. Kauwboy

Best Director

1. Bela Tarr The Turin Horse
2. Quentin Tarantino Django Unchained
3. Bavo Derfune North Sea Texas
4. Joe Wright Anna Karenina
5. Christopher Nolan The Dark Knight Rises

Leading Male Performances

1. Daniel Day-Lewis Lincoln
2. Hugh Jackman Les Miserables
3. Denis Lavant Holy Motors
4. Matthew McConaughey Killer Joe
5. Logan Lerman The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Leading Female Performances

1. Keira Knightley Anna Karenina
2. Tilda Swinton We Need to Talk About Kevin
3. Magaly Solier Amador
4. Noomi Rapace The Monitor
5. Erika Bók The Turin Horse

Supporting Male Performances

1. Leonardo DiCaprio Django Unchained
2. Samuel L. Jackson Django Unchained
3. Eddie Redmayne Les Misérables
4. Mikkel Boe Foesgaard A Royal Affair
5. Matthew McConaughey Bernie

Supporting Female Performances

1. Anne Hathaway Les Misérables
2. Samantha Barks Les Misérables
3. Gina Gershon Killer Joe
4. Sally Field Lincoln
5. Anna Gunn Sassy Pants

Best Screenplays

1. Patrick Wang In the Family
2. Bavo Defurne and Andre Sollie North Sea Texas
3. Quentin Tarantino Django Unchained
4. Laszlo Krasznahorki and Bela Tarr The Turin Horse
5. Tom Stoppard Leo Tolstoy Anna Karenina

Best Foreign Film

1. The Turin Horse
2. North Sea Texas
3. Kauwboy
4. Holy Motors
5. The Raid: Redemption

As for the Ormies, as intimated above, it’s more of a snubbed award so here are my choices based on Oscar expectations. A few are admittedly wished-for surprises. These are open to anyone. Submit your choices here via email.

Best Picture

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Best Director

Tom Hooper Les Misérables

Best Actress

Keira Knightley Anna Karenina

Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey Killer Joe

Best Supporting Actor

Leonardo DiCaprio Django Unchained

Best Supporting Actress

Samantha Barks Les Misérables

Best Original Screenplay

The Cabin in the Woods

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Foreign Language Film

Kauwboy

Animated Film

Rise of the Guardians

Documentary

Bully

Original Song

“The Big Machine” Safety Not Guaranteed

Top 25 Films of 2012: 10-1

I try to keep my mind as open as possible during the year, and as you start assembling a list like this you see there could be perceived slights. The fact of the matter is making this list was brutal. More than once I had to consider if I can stick to a previously made proclamation, more than once I jotted down additional titles to see if they could slide into the top 25.

10. Kauwboy

Kauwboy (2012, Waterland Film BV)

Few films can go for lyrical simplicity and capture it so well. Equally difficult is capturing the unspeakable wonders of childhood creativity and a young protagonist alone. This film succeeds in all those areas and more. It truly deserves a worldwide audience.

9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012, Summit)

This film is one of the best heartfelt teen movies in quite some time. Yes, there was Easy A a few years ago, but that was primarily satirical comedy. There’s humor here but it’s mostly a drama, and has three characters you end up knowing and caring about a great deal.

8. The Dynamiter

The Dynamiter (2011, Film Movement)

I could’ve mentioned this for quite a few entries, but aside from all these films being quality pieces, this was really a year of tear-jerkers crowding this list. Making someone cry is one thing, but doing so and being all around great is something else. This film works so subtly and softly I never felt it coming, but when it hit, it hit so hard.

7. Les Misérables

Les Misérables (2012, Universal)

The rip-your-heart-out-bawl-your-eyes-out emotions of the show are here cinematic, raw, in your face here and I for one love it. Some songs are redefined, others reinvented; the cast breathes new life into this classic tale.

6. The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods (2012, Lionsgate)

If there’s one genre that needs a jolt of energy every so often, it’s horror. The proliferation of horror films will continue, so originality and reflexivity need to be injected to keep it vibrant. This is one of the best films in the genre in years.

5. North Sea Texas

North Sea Texas (2011, Strand Releasing)

Here you see the benefits of festival-going, for had I not made a point of attending QFest in Philadelphia I wouldn’t have seen it. The limited release of this film never really came anywhere close to me.

Thus, I haven’t been fortunate enough to re-view the film, but I firmly believe what I said prior: this will stand the test of time as an important work.

4. The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Warner Bros.)

I love Batman. I do. Had I not gotten bogged down, and behind schedule, I would’ve written a Hero Whipped about it. Nolan’s trilogy is brilliant, but mostly due to the way this one closes it. Enjoyable as the first two were, I always felt I didn’t like them as much as everyone else. This one I love a lot and was very emotionally involving.

3. Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina (2012, Fox Searchlight)

This and the title that follows on the list are the ones that really grew upon thought. I never expected this to be such an emotionally involving experience and I was very glad it turned out to be one.

2. The Turin Horse

The Turin Horse (2011, Cinema Guild))

This film is about as perfect a swan song as you could want.

1. Django Unchained

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

I wrote a bit about this in the BAM Award Winners post. To summarize here: this is a film about slavery that’s as funny as it is smart, and as brash as it is enjoyable.

Thankful for World Cinema: North Sea Texas

This past weekend the Belgian Film North Sea Texas opened in New York and Los Angeles. I was fortunate enough to watch this film in July when it screened at Q Fest in Philadelphia. Based on the plot synopsis I had hopes that it would be a good film, what I didn’t expect was for the film to be somewhat groundbreaking in the annals of gay cinema, and, yes, I feel that the way in which the film handles its subject can render it universal. However, the fact remains that it will be pigeonholed as such due to what it’s about. The way in which it’s groundbreaking is startlingly simple: it’s a positive, affirmative film that essentially says love conquers all. Now, on the surface you might think you’ve seen that done a thousand times, and you have for a film about heterosexual romance. It happens less often in gay-themed films, and is even more infrequent in gay-themed films about first love.

Now, cinema, for the most part, has evolved past the point that is excruciatingly illustrated in the documentary The Celluloid Closet, which deals with the depiction of LGBT characters in Hollywood films up to that point. However, film in general, even when titles mean well, are beautifully, sensitively crafted and acted; still gravitate towards the quasi- and flat-out tragic tales when it comes to gay or lesbian protagonists.

This is not being judgmental, these are facts, and it’s a case wherein films are attempting to reflect realities. The examples are plentiful such as: This Special Friendship (Les Amitiés particulières) even being French, and dealing with the specifically named and ridiculed boarding-school romance, this is tragedy. Then you have films that deal with repression like Brokeback Mountain, Far From Heaven or even The Hours.

Then there is the kind of film that I expected this one to end up being like: Wild Reeds (Les Roseaux Sauvages), which is a tale of first romance that is all too typical: best friends one fall for another, there is experimentation but only one feels an emotional attachment because only one of the two is actually gay. It’s a first love deception that is commonplace and fair game for dramas.

However, what North Sea Texas strikes upon, and what makes it work so well and so important is that it’s an idealistic tale. It reminds me of a debate I and a professor had about the Indian film Fire in college. His criticism of the film was that the revelation of, and the familial objection to, a sexual abuse situation was unrealistic. My assertion was “Why should it be?” If you’re trying to make a point be it societal, political or otherwise, there are times when the best way to make it is to seek out an ideal and illustrate it, rather than just illustrating that the problem exists.

Not to say there isn’t drama, conflicts or struggles in North Sea Texas but the resolution to the the dramatic question the film poses is an overwhelmingly positive and beautiful one, made even more powerful because of how rarely it is seen.

It is also an extraordinarily timely one. With equality issues coming to the fore in many countries around the world, principally the United States, it is extremely useful and reassuring to see an illustration of it “getting better” and not merely being told that. Furthermore, this is not merely an assertion I’m making based on my read of the film, but it is also included in the credits where the film is dedicated to the kids whose parents refused to allow them to participate in the making of the film.

North Sea Texas is a wonderfully rendered artistic film that should win over any and all open-minded fans of film, but any film has its target audience and for the audience targeted here there are few films that ever so firmly, staunchly and beautifully espoused its over- and underlying messages. Few films can really said to be of social significance beyond just being a film. This, I believe, is definitely one of them. It may take time, but this film is one that I believe will stand the test of time and become quite a milestone. You may even try to dismiss it as a fairy tale if you want, but that could well be the point. For who doesn’t deserve their happily ever after?