Felicity Huffman is a best actress front runner as transsexual Bree
Heath Ledger’s (top) main competition for best actor is Philip
Seymour Hoffman (bottom) as the gay title character in ‘Capote.’
end of 2005 brought two love stories that departed from the usual “boy
meets girl” formula. There was no girl at all in the central romance
of “Brokeback Mountain,” which the critics embraced. (It
was named best picture of the year by critics’ groups in New York,
Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston, with others likely to follow suit,
and received seven Golden Globes nominations, more than any other film,
with the Academy Awards likely to match that total). In the public favorite, “King
Kong,” the “romance” centers around a girl and a 25-foot
How Joe Sixpack will react to “Brokeback Mountain” when it
goes into wide release — Focus Features is so far platforming it
effectively — remains to be seen.
Twelve years ago “Philadelphia” raised the same questions as “Brokeback
Mountain” regarding what the public is ready for. A movie about a
gay man with AIDS seemed risky, but Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington added
a certain degree of box office insurance. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal
aren’t at the same level but they appeal to a younger, raised-on-MTV
audience, many of whom don’t see being gay as a big deal. “Philadelphia” went
on to gross over $77 million in the U.S. and win two Oscars of the five
it was nominated for and two of three Golden Globes.
Any way you look at it, it’s going to be a queer awards season.
In addition to “Brokeback’s” chances in the picture,
director, adapted screenplay, supporting actress, cinematography and original
song categories, Heath Ledger’s main competition for best actor is
Philip Seymour Hoffman as the gay title character in “Capote.” Dark
horses in that category include Cillian Murphy’s cross-dressing hero
in “Breakfast on Pluto” and Pierce Brosnan’s possible
bisexual in “The Matador.” The best actress front-runner is
Felicity Huffman as transsexual Bree in “Transamerica.” Quite
possibly all these films could turn up in other categories as well.
“The Producers,” a long shot in several categories, is a buddy
movie about two straight guys (one of them played by gay Nathan Lane) who
each other. Gary Beach and Roger Bart play very gay supporting characters.
Gay directors weighed in this year. Rob Marshall (“Chicago”)
had “Memoirs of a Geisha,” a high-camp melodrama with Gong
Li in an over-the-top performance that’s earned some Oscar buzz.
Thomas Bezucha (“Big Eden”) made “The Family Stone,” which
featured a sympathetic, interracial gay couple (Ty Giordano, Brian White)
at the family gathering. Don Roos (“The Opposite of Sex”) mixed
gay and straight characters and plots into “Happy Endings,” a
good film that deserved a wider audience. The less said about Gus Van Sant’s “Last
Days” the better.
While it was still common to get cheap laughs in comedies (“The Producers,” “Cheaper
by the Dozen 2”) with scenes where straight men are found in what
appear to be compromising positions, it was more common to find characters
who happen to be gay or lesbian integrated into the fabric of the story
(“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” “The Upside of Anger”),
just as we are in real life. Bisexuality was downplayed but not ignored
In the queer film arena noble efforts from several filmmakers who may have
a future made it beyond the festival circuit to some arthouses, but two
comebacks were the big story. Nicole Conn (“Claire of the Moon”)
turned from lesbian fiction to lesbian reality to film a crisis in her
own family and made the year’s best documentary, “little man.” Gregg
Araki (“The Living End”) grew up and, without abandoning his
punk aesthetic, adapted someone else’s novel into a better film than
any of his original scripts (and some of them were quite good), in “Mysterious
Here’s my personal pick of the best of 2005, with “best” often
meaning the films that moved me the most rather than the ones with the
highest degree of technical excellence.
“Crash” — Frightening and funny variations on a theme
of racism in L.A. today, performed by a brilliant ensemble cast. If you
think you’re not racist it may prove you wrong.
“The Squid and the Whale” — Noah Baumbach’s tale
of divorcing parents (Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney) and the impact on their
sons is too detailed and deeply felt not to be autobiographical.
“little man” — I wouldn’t cross the street to see
a movie about a baby born 100 days prematurely, but Nicole Conn’s
documentary about her son’s fight for life tore me up. Catch it on
Showtime in April.
“Good Night, and Good Luck” — Is it really about the
McCarthy witch hunt of the early ’50s or the Patriot Act today? Nostalgia
or activism, it’s good filmmaking.
“Brokeback Mountain” — The year’s best romance
happens to be between two cowboys. Not that there’s anything wrong
with that, especially the way Ang Lee tells it.
“Me and You and Everyone We Know” — Miranda July changed
the way I look at performance artists with her genuine original about kids’ first
thoughts of sex and adults’ search for love or whatever.
“King Kong” — It’s too long in spots and the interspecies
love story is overdone, but at its frequent best Peter Jackson’s
remake is as good as a popcorn movie gets.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” —Despite Johnny Depp’s
scary resemblance to Michael Jackson, the Tim Burton version of “Willy
Wonka” is a family classic for the ages.
“Mysterious Skin” — “Mystic River” meets “Donnie
Darko” and Gregg Araki matures with his adaptation of a novel about
the long-term effects of molestation on two boys.
“Lord of War” — Andrew Niccol’s jaundiced look
at arms trafficking follows Ukranian immigrant Nicolas Cage for 20 darkly
comic years. It disappeared from theaters so fast I thought I’d dreamed
it, but catch it on video.