While trying to remember some of the names of the great indie films I saw in the 80s for my last post, I ran across this awesome list put together by The Advocate. I’ve highlighted the films I’ve actually seen in blue, fully preparing for the scoldings to follow. “What do you mean you haven’t seen x!”
1. Brokeback Mountain (2005): This Oscar-winning feature film is arguably one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking gay love stories ever told on the silver screen. The chemistry between the late Heath Ledger’s restrained, tortured Ennis Del Mar and Jake Gyllenhaal’s sensitive and tender Jack Twist takes viewers high into Wyoming’s Grand Teton mountains in an intimate portrait of two men brutally confined by the hypermasculine culture in which they exist. After watching the film with its emotional gut-punch of a conclusion, you’ll understand Jack’s lament and agony in telling Ennis “I can’t quit you.” The only thing that compares with the powerful performances turned in by Ledger and Gyllenhaal is director Ang Lee’s stunning visuals — which earned him an Academy Award for best director. —Sunnivie Brydum
2. Milk (2008): This film about the life and death of pioneering gay politician Harvey Milk won two richly deserved Oscars, for Dustin Lance Black’s screenplay and Sean Penn’s performance in the title role. It does not make Milk a plaster saint, but portrays him as fully and fallibly human as well as a formidable crusader for the rights of all. Directed by Gus Van Sant, it’s a film that moves and inspires, while assuring that a new generation will know an important figure in our history. —Trudy Ring
3. Paris Is Burning (1990): This documentary shone a bright light on the African-American, Latino, and LGBT communities involved in the New York City ball culture of the mid-to-late 1980s. Directed by Jennie Livingston, Paris Is Burning brought an underground aspect of LGBT culture to the mainstream. From the use of slang (“serving realness”) to unforgettable quotes (“reading is fundamental”), the film has had a lasting impact on both LGBT and mainstream pop culture. —Jase Peeples
4. Cabaret (1972): There’s no doubt that Berlin’s Kit Kat Klub is just the most fantastically awesome place this side of World War I. Right at the beginning, the Emcee, played by the tireless Joel Grey, bids the audience a hearty “willkommen” to this world of seedy glamour. Our heroine Sally Bowles — portrayed by an exquisite Liza Minnelli — pops off the screen in a story that follows her trapped in love with two men, while the Nazi regime rises to power. The film is epic, gripping, and entertaining. You will be singing at least one of the songs from this musical for days. Weeks. OK, in my case, years — it’s “Two Ladies,” “Money, Money,” and the title tune. —Michelle Garcia
5. The Boys in the Band (1970): Mart Crowley’s hit play became the first famous gay film ever. Vito Russo said of the movie, “The internalized guilt of eight gay men at a Manhattan birthday party formed the best and most potent argument for gay liberation ever offered in a popular art form.” No, it wasn’t representative of what gay life was like‚ but it was representative of what gay life was like for those alcoholic men, in that city, at that time. Crowley’s quotable script was shocking, real, and hysterically funny. With Cliff Gorman, Leonard Frey, Kenneth Nelson, and Frederick Combs, and directed by William Friedkin (of Cruising fame.) —Christopher Harrity
6. Philadelphia (1993): Philadelphia encapsulates so many things that signify excellent filmmaking, but one of them is showing something that is simply true to life: When we get to know people who are different from ourselves, we become better people. Tom Hanks’s unparalleled performance as Andrew Beckett, a man who is fighting for his dignity and his life, convinces small-time (and homophobic) lawyer Joe Miller, played by Denzel Washington, to represent him in a wrongful-termination suit. The film came out before there were revolutionary drugs that helped save the lives of many with HIV and AIDS. Meanwhile, it followed the initial shock of the epidemic, which led to heightened paranoia on one side, and on the other, a better understanding of the virus itself. Philadelphia is undoubtedly a groundbreaking time capsule. —M.G.
7. Bound (1996): This neo-noir thriller marked the directorial debut of the Wachowski siblings, and though it was long before Lana Wachowski was an out trans woman, we can’t help but think it helped influence this superb bisexual/lesbian classic in which Violet (femme and alluring Jennifer Tilly), a moll owned by her Mafia boyfriend (Joe Pantoliano) but looking for escape, has an affair with butch neighbor Corky (Gina Gershon in the hottest lesbian film role ever). The two women hatch a scheme to steal millions from the mob, and the usual noir tropes (just who is betraying who?) work to great success, albeit with a hefty dose of violence (this is a rare film where there are empowered women and violence and the latter isn’t directed at the former). The reason queer girls loved it? The sex was genuine and hot, thanks in large part to Susie Bright, who served as the resident lesbian sexpert to help the auteurs get it right. (She has a cameo too.) —Diane Anderson-Minshall
8. Desert Hearts (1985): Donna Deitch’s directorial debut is the first “real” lesbian film (an out lesbian, nobody dies, two women have sex). Based on lesbian author Jane Rule’s novel, Desert of the Heart follows Vivian (Helen Shaver), a repressed divorcee waiting out the legal finalities in a ranch guesthouse in 1950s Nevada. Vivian is all class and repression, and the ranch owner warns her to stay away from her irrepressible lesbian daughter Cay (Patricia Charbonneau, wearing jean shorts and cowboy boots and a whole lot of lesbian lust). Turns out, that’s who she’s drawn to, and soon Cay is unrepressing Viv in the first real lesbian sex scene in a film. Their growing relationship played against the rocky red soil and rolling landscape doesn’t necessarily have a future, but it’s the sight of Vivian’s slow but seismic sexual awakening that makes this film Deitch’s valentine to the rest of us. —D.A.M.
9. Boys Don’t Cry (1999): It’s easy to dismiss this as an “important” film, but Boys Don’t Cry, based on the true story of the murder of Brandon Teena, a young trans man killed in Nebraska, is actually an incredibly good one as well. For a film that ends in such an atrocity, it has a breezy romanticism as we meet the flirty Brandon (played by Hilary Swank, in a role that won her an Oscar and made her career) and weary Lana, the girl he falls in love with. Brandon knows little of other trans people, of hormones or gender identity or even the kind of (sadly still limited, but at least talked about) rights trans people have today. But he’s young and in love and troubled, because of having no social safety net, living in an impoverished community, and hiding his birth-gender assignment (and in the film, the lack of medical hormones is the linchpin that eventually leads to his death). Watch it with a big box of Kleenex and a sense of injustice. —D.A.M.
10. Parting Glances (1986): Writer and director Bill Sherwood would never make another film — he succumbed to an AIDS-related disease in 1990 — but his only cinematic work, Parting Glances, will keep his legacy alive for decades to come. The well-acted and brilliantly written film centers on Robert and Michael, a couple preparing for a two-year separation as Michael heads to Africa for work. Over the course of 24 hours, Robert, Michael, and their friends and lovers all collide to hilarious and heart-wrenching effect. Robert’s ex-boyfriend Nick (Steve Buscemi — perhaps best known today for his star turns in Boardwalk Empire, 30 Rock, and Fargo — in his first major role) is a rock star dying of AIDS. But Nick is never a pitiable character, instead a strong and defiant survivor, a rarity for cinematic portrayals of people with AIDS, in the ’90s and beyond. —Neal Broverman
11. Making Love (1982): The plot of this 1982 film — a supposedly straight, married L.A. doctor falls in love with another man — sounds like a Lifetime movie now, but at the time it was groundbreaking. Making Love was also well-acted, with stellar performances from Michael Ontkean as the latently gay protagonist, Kate Jackson as the confused wife, and especially Harry Hamlin as the sexy, hedonistic novelist who Ontkean’s character falls for. Hamlin, a huge star at the time, would later say the movie damaged his career but that he remains proud of it. —N.B.
12. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994): Director Stephan Elliott’s Australian film about the adventures of two drag queens and a trans woman who travel across the desert in a rickety old bus to perform a drag show found box office success around the world and a place in the hearts of many LGBT viewers as well. Starring Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, and Terence Stamp, the film garnered many awards, including an Oscar for Best Costume Design. Today, the film is considered by many to be an LGBT kitsch comedy classic, loved as much for its over-the-top characters as its unflinching look at life through a queer lens. —J.P.
13. But I’m A Cheerleader (1999): This comedy manages to both make fun of the absurdity of efforts to “de-gay” people by sending them to organizations that claim to rid patients of homosexual desires, and make a poignant statement about the dangers of so-called sexual orientation change efforts. Lesbian director Jamie Babbit brings a poignant queer woman’s perspective to the feature, which also stars lesbian fan favorites Natasha Lyonne and Clea Duvall. Ultimately, the most powerful component of this lighthearted film is the nuanced exploration of female sexuality, which has helped more than a few now out and proud ladies — this writer included — come to terms with being a feminine woman who isn’t straight. —S.B.
14. Maurice (1987): Based on E.M. Forster’s long-suppressed novel of gay love, the film stars James Wilby, Rupert Graves, and Hugh Grant all at their most adorable. Forster’s novel, written in 1914, was published in 1971, after his death, as Forster knew there was controversy in giving the lovers a happy ending. The novel allowed a new openness in literature and biography. The film was the satisfying second shoe to drop. Gay people who had never seen dreamy romantic images of same-sex couples on the big screen swooned over the beautifully art-directed affair between the well-born Maurice and the laborer Scudder. They also swooned at Rupert Graves’s callipygian assets. —C.H.
15. Gods and Monsters (1998): One of our greatest gay actors, Sir Ian McKellen, plays James Whale, the gay movie director who brought Frankenstein and The Invisible Man to the screen in 1930s Hollywood (and demonstrated his versatility by helming the first film version of Show Boat). While Whale is a real-life figure, Gods and Monsters is a fantasia on his last days, showing him largely forgotten by the film industry and drawn to a young, straight gardener, played by Brendan Fraser. McKellen’s performance as this gifted, tragic man is extraordinary and heartbreaking. Bill Condon won an Oscar for his screenplay, adapted from Christopher Bram’s novel Father of Frankenstein;McKellen was nominated, but he was robbed. —T.R.
16. Beautiful Thing (1996): The British coming-of-age film perfectly captured the sweetness of young gay love at a time when stereotypes and fear of the AIDS epidemic dominated LGBT representations in cinema. Grounded in the reality of a London suburb in 1996, the love story of Jamie and Ste stands out for its honest and positive portrayal of gay teens who embrace their true nature and experience the beauty of first love. —J.P.
17. Longtime Companion (1990): One of the first AIDS-themed films aimed at a wide audience is set in New York City and traces the effect of the disease, beginning with its emergence in 1981, on a group of (mostly) gay friends. It has been criticized for its focus on affluent white men, with the black and Latino characters being either marginal or examples of bad behavior, but it has merit as an early effort to put a human face on AIDS for moviegoers who thought of the illness as someone else’s problem. Written by Craig Lucas and directed by Norman Rene, it features several moving moments, including a goose bump–inducing final scene, and excellent performances from a cast that includes Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner Bruce Davison, along with Campbell Scott and Mary-Louise Parker. —T.R.
18. All About Eve (1950): “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” So says Bette Davis, playing Broadway star Margo Channing, in the film’s most famous line, but it’s only one of many wonderful witticisms in a movie that practically defines gay sensibility, at least a certain type of it, even though it was written and directed by a straight man, Joe Mankiewicz. There is also the intimation that scheming Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), who wants to supplant Margo as first lady of the American stage, may well be a lesbian, but the greatest pleasure in a film with many is the incomparable and perfectly cast George Sanders as the ultimate bitchy queen, that “venomous fishwife” of a drama critic, Addison DeWitt. Sanders won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor, Mankiewicz took home directing and screenplay honors, and the film was named Best Picture of the year. —T.R.
19. The Celluloid Closet (1995): This film provides an in-depth look at the history of LGBT people in North American cinema and the attitudes behind these portrayals. One of the most talked-about revelations from the documentary was that Gore Vidal had infused a gay subtext into the screeplay for the epic 1959 film Ben-Hur — a notion that had Vidal and star Charlton Heston in a notoriously public war of words. Based on the book by Vito Russo, the documentary enhanced the foundation of queer film theory and has become a staple in the curriculum of LGBT studies courses at universities around the world. —J.P.
20. Weekend (2011): This beautifully restrained film tells the story of two young gay British men who meet at a club, hook up, and fall in love over the course of an eventful weekend. One of the guys is introverted and half-closeted, while the other is brash, gregarious, and wears his sexuality on his sleeve; their worldviews complement each other and their chemistry is explosive. Through passionate conversations, many drug-fueled, they alternately challenge, confuse, and confound each other. It’s a grown-up, no-holds-barred exploration of modern love between men, and even the sex is honest. Directed by Andrew Haigh, who’s moved on to executive-produce HBO’s Looking, the film well deserved its status as a critical darling. —N.B.
21. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985): Combining racism, class issues, and gay love in one sudsy mix sounds like a recipe for heavy-handed treacle, but Stephen Frears’s My Beautiful Laundrette is as entertaining as it is culturally resonant. The story of a Pakistani man and a street punk falling in love, challenging the conventions of Thatcher-era London, and classing up a laundromat in the way only gay men can do, My Beautiful Laundrette was immediately met with praise and its screenplay nominated for an Oscar. The film’s punk was played by the brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis, while director Frears is still on a roll, recently Oscar-nominated for Philomena. —N.B.
22. The Times of Harvey Milk (1984): Before there was Milk, there was The Times of Harvey Milk. While the dramatized version offers a wonderful portrayal of the political trailblazer, there’s nothing quite like getting to know the real man, as we do via archival footage in Robert Epstein’s remarkable documentary, released just six years after Milk’s assassination. There are also numerous interviews with people who knew him, demonstrating how many lives he touched and changed. Harvey Fierstein narrates this deserving Oscar winner. —T.R.
23. The Wizard Of Oz (1939): It’s no wonder that gay men have referred to one another as “Friends of Dorothy” for three quarters of a century. From the moment Judy Garland sings “Over the Rainbow” on a gray Kansas tractor, LGBTs found a heroine, one who so beautifully articulates an anthem for those yearning for “a place where there isn’t any trouble.” Her journey into the Technicolor Land of Oz, which so thrilled audiences in 1939, still continues to enchant both young and old. And while her friends the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow may look like a motley crew, their quest for intelligence, courage, heart, and home is one that continues to resonate with and inspire the LGBT rights movement. —Daniel Reynolds
24. Auntie Mame (1958): Rosalind Russell as everybody’s favorite naughty aunt. Little orphaned Patrick Dennis comes to live with his drinky, amorous, wealthy Auntie Mame. LGBT subjects are alluded to coyly — it was 1958, after all — but the core of the story is about conservatives objecting to Auntie Mame’s “lifestyle.” It’s visually splendid, packed with great character performances, but you may want to strangle little Patrick by the second act. “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” Be warned: The 1974 musical version Mame, starring Lucille Ball, is a sad disaster. —C.H.
25. Torch Song Trilogy (1988): This superlative early gay film was adapted from the three-part play of the same name by Harvey Feinstein, and centers around his character, Arnold, a shamelessly swishy Jewish drag performer who navigates New York’s gay scene, finds love (with Matthew Broderick, at the height of his youthful fame), fights with his mom (Anne Bancroft), and adopts a teen. It’s both hilarious and tragic; some moments are at once sad and sentimental and funny. —D.A.M.
26. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001): In this multi-award-winning new cult classic, a trans front woman of an East German punk rock band tells her life story in song form, of falling in love with an American soldier, getting a botched gender surgery (hence the “angry inch”), and of being left for another man. It’s less TransAmerica and more Rocky Horror, but John Cameron Mitchell, who wrote and directed it, is smashing in the title role. —D.A.M.
27. Latter Days (2003): Long before the South Park team took on The Book of Mormon, gay writer-director and former Mormon C. Jay Cox explored the damage done to families by the antigay attitudes within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with his ultimately sweet film Latter Days. Sure, the film falls into some classic rom-com tropes — the closeted Mormon missionary moves to Los Angeles, where he encounters the sassy, out actor-turned-waiter ironically named Christian in a predictable laundry room meet-cute — but the performances turned in, especially by Steve Sandvoss as the conflicted missionary, are honest and powerful. Keep an eye out for scene-stealing supporting actors like Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Elder Paul Ryder, Rebekah Johnson as Christian’s musician roomie Julie Taylor, and even Jacqueline Bisset and Amber Benson. —S.B.
28. Trick (1999): A quintessential film for a generation of gay men, 1999’s Trick took a lighthearted look at the pleasures and pitfalls of one-night stands as Gabriel (Christian Campbell) and Mark (John Paul Pitoc) discover that hooking up in Manhattan isn’t as easy as it looks and romance can blossom at the most unexpected times. —J.P.
29. Shelter (2008): Jonah Markowitz’s gay-surfers-in-love movie Shelter is a sweet, sexy, sun-soaked valentine to true love and family values. Zach (Trevor Wright), who has pushed his art-school dreams aside to take care of his selfish deadbeat sister, Jeanne (Tina Holmes), and her 5-year-old son, Cody. Zach gets knocked out of his funk — and his closet — when his best friend’s hunky older brother, Shaun (Brad Rowe), a disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter, retreats to his family’s beach house to try to get his mojo back. They hang. They surf. They fall in love. They’re Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello without the chastity. —The Advocate in 2008
30. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975): Nearly every slightly off-kilter high school student in America who rolls with the drama club crowd could say that this film was essential to their upbringing and their appreciation of sexual exploration, camp, and absurdity. This musical has so many things: a satire of ridiculous B-movies, fun with fishnets and heels, insane science fiction, artsy weirdness, and unabashed sexuality. And it’s chock-full of very catchy, fun music. —M.G.
31. Capote (2005): The late Philip Seymour Hoffman handily won the Academy Award for his portrayal of the literary world’s enfant terrible Truman Capote in the 2005 biopic. The film shines a light on Capote’s life just as he was beginning research on his true-crime masterpiece In Cold Blood,about the 1959 Clutter family murders in Kansas. Director Bennett Miller’s movie focused on Capote’s unhealthy attachment to one of the killers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.), whom Capote visited in prison. The supporting cast includes a pitch-perfect Catherine Keener as Capote’s dear friend, To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee. Chris Cooper, Bruce Greenwood, Amy Ryan, Mark Pellegrino, and Bob Balaban round out the superb cast. While Hoffman was physically much larger than Capote, he nailed the role of a lifetime, imbuing him with complicated pathos as a writer who obliterated boundaries for his story. —Tracy E. Gilchrist
32. The Women (1939): Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell head up an amazing cast of dozens of the greatest female actors of the late ’30s. And not one man. Anita Loos added zip to Clare Booth Luce’s stage script about the savage backstabbing and mercenary marriages of the Park Avenue set. The zingers race by so fast it demands multiple viewings to savor every barb. Before gay people had films of their own to reflect them, films like this were iconic touchstones. If you heard a man quoting the film, you knew you were among friends. If you want to stay friends with us, don’t mention the 2008 version. —C.H.
33. The Wedding Banquet (1993): Before Brokeback Mountain, there was The Wedding Banquet, director Ang Lee’s first film to deal with LGBT themes. Notable as the first film of Taiwanese origin to positively depict an interracial gay couple, The Wedding Banquet is a groundbreaking comedy of errors that centers on a Taiwanese-American who is afraid to come out to his traditional family. In order to placate his relatives, he hides his long-term relationship with a man and makes plans to marry a woman — a plot that, as in many real-life instances, fails miserably. A nominee for Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, The Wedding Banquet has withstood the test of time as a film that tackles the perennial and often thorny issues that come with the collision of love and family. —D.R.
34. My Own Private Idaho (1991): Gay director Gus Van Sant’s meandering story follows River Phoenix, who plays Mike, a troubled gay street hustler, and his best friend (played by Keanu Reeves) from the streets of Portland to Seattle to Italy and Idaho. Along the way, the film explores love and loss, betrayal and the street life a lot of LGBT kids find themselves in. It’s a bit of a gay Easy Rider and a must-see; poignant, emotional, frustrating, and don’t expect a happy ending. —D.A.M.
35. Big Eden (2000): In this romantic dramedy, one of the more underrated gay films, Arye Gross (from the sitcom Ellen) plays Henry, a gay New York artist who has to go back to his hometown of Eden, Mont., to care for his ailing grandfather. But it differs from other “homecoming” stories in that Henry’s openly gay and the people in his hometown are not only tolerant of that, some of them are downright supportive (it’s a superb gay fantasy vehicle for anyone who ever left a rural community and dreams of going home). Even better, as Henry deals with his unrequited high school crush, Pike, a quiet Native American shopkeeper (played expertly by Eric Schweig) is falling in love with him. —D.A.M.
36. Strangers on a Train (1951): Alfred Hitchcock was not only the master of suspense, he was the master of getting taboo subjects past the censors in the days of Hollywood’s Production Code. It’s impossible to miss the sexual tension between tennis player Guy (Farley Granger) and man of leisure Bruno (Robert Walker) from the moment their fashionably shod feet brush together in a train’s club car. Guy wants to be free of his wife, while Bruno despises his father, so Bruno proposes that the two commit murders for each other. That sets in motion a film that offers plenty of suspense along with the homoeroticism, plus marvelous Hitchcockian set pieces and well-used D.C. scenery. It’s one of Hitch’s best, and Walker, usually cast in more lightweight roles, is a revelation as the sinister Bruno. Sadly, Walker died the year the movie was released; he was only 32 years old. —T.R.
37. Transamerica (2005): This award-winning film, starring Felicity Huffman in an Oscar-nominated performance as transgender woman Bree, admittedly doesn’t get everything right when it comes to portraying a fully developed trans character on the big screen. For starters, Huffman is a cisgender (nontrans) woman, whose character discovers that she fathered a son who is now a teenage runaway living in New York. Cue the trans-as-surprise-twist critique. But the film, which had trans woman and vocal coach Andrea James as a consulting producer, was a substantial step forward in mainstream visibility for transgender characters, and remains an accessible way to introduce folks wholly unfamiliar with the concept of gender identity to a sympathetic depiction of some of the struggles that come from seeking an authentic life. —S.B.
38. Another Country (1984): Never has homosexual repression in the British public school system (think Eton) looked quite as beautiful as in director Marek Kanievska’s 1984 big-screen version of Julian Mitchell’s period play of the same name. Based in the 1930s, the film stars a young, gorgeous Rupert Everett as Guy Bennett, an unrepentant gay student who challenges authority, an equally stunning Colin Firth as a budding Marxist, and Cary Elwes as Bennett’s delicious love interest. The film explores burgeoning desire, gay panic in the era, progressive politics, and class war against the backdrop of academia, which is just about everything one can hope for in a movie. —T.E.G.
39. Victor/Victoria (1982): Julie Andrews and James Garner star in this feel-good picture made for a mainstream market that addresses gender, homophobia, and the place of women in society — in song! Set in the 1930s and directed by Andrews’s husband, the extremely gay-friendly Blake Edwards, this farce centers on Andrews as Victoria Grant passing herself off as a male tenor assisted by her fellow cohort in crime, Robert Preston as gay cabaret singer Carole “Toddy” Todd. Tough guy James Garner, much to his own confusion, falls for the young “man.” Also chagrined is Garner’s moll, played to perfection by Lesley Ann Warren in her naughtiest performance ever. Gender hilarity ensues. —C.H.
40. Get Real (1998): This British film about Steve (Ben Silverstone) and his unexpected romance with the star jock of his prep school, John Dixon (Brad Gorton), may not have broken new ground in 1998, but its sincere portrayal of young love has made this gay romantic coming-of-age story a favorite of LGBT fans for more than 15 years. Based on the play by Patrick Wilde, the film’s story of one young man embracing his sexuality, another rejecting it, and the complications that arise from their feelings for one another provides an honest look at the pain, confusion, and potentially liberating experiences that are found on the road to coming out. —J.P.
41. Love! Valour! Compassion! (1997): The film version of Terrence McNally’s 1995 Tony-winning play, Love! Valour! Compassion! follows a group of gay New Yorkers over three summer weekends at a country house. They flirt, joke, quote Broadway shows, and experience some anger and jealousy alongside the love, valor, and compassion. And, given their times, they can’t escape the shadow of AIDS. Adapted by McNally for the screen and directed by its Broadway helmer, Joe Mantello, this captivating comedy-drama is well acted by an ensemble that includes all the Broadway players but one (Nathan Lane is replaced here by Jason Alexander). But Alexander is fine as the queeny, funny Buzz, proving he’s more than simply Seinfeld’s George Costanza. Everyone else in the cast is terrific too, but John Glover is a standout, re-creating his Tony-winning dual role as sweet and sour twins. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry — the latter especially at one scene toward the end. —T.R.
42. The Hours (2002): Boasting nine Oscar nominations, The Hours is a powerhouse of acting that boasts the talents of Ed Harris, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, and Nicole Kidman, who won Best Actress for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf. Based on the novel by gay author Michael Cunningham and directed by Stephen Daldry, The Hours depicts characters across the span of the 20th century who are all drawn to members of the same sex. And like Ed Harris’s character, a gay poet dying of an AIDS-related illness, each is drawn toward the precipice of suicide. But what easily could have been a flat tale of woe taps into a deeper font. Masterful storytelling and performances stress the combined human powers of love, obligation, and regret in maintaining one’s grasp on life and all the hours therein. —D.R.
43. Pink Flamingos (1972): Booed by critics and banned by many theaters upon its release, Pink Flamingos is perhaps one of the most impactful works by gay director John Waters, being a campy ode to “the other.” The film features a cast of vile characters vying to become “the filthiest person alive,” including a couple who kidnaps women, impregnates them, and sells their babies on the black market. But the filthiest and most memorable presence is the drag queen Divine, whose shit-eating finale bestowed upon her an instant celebrity that continues to endure. While Pink Flamingos most likely would not win a GLAAD Media Award if it were released today, its celebration of queerness made a mark in 1970s America that has guaranteed its status as a cult classic. —D.R.
44. Thelma & Louise (1991): A movie about two gal pals on a road trip that turned into a movie about two badass, gun-toting broads on the run from the law? Sign me up. Interestingly, when the movie came out in 1991, it was the subject of so many jokes from late-night hosts and comedians, especially for its full-throttle ending. Looking back, it’s undoubtedly the right ending to such an amazing tale of feminism. I guess the boys of late night couldn’t handle the thought of two women who could be the courageous heroes of their own respective stories. —M.G.
45. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (1985): This film had already gained a reputation for being one of the gayest horror films of all time before screenwriter David Chaskin admitted in a 2010 documentary on the Elm Street franchise, Never Sleep Again, that he had intentionally written the film as a gay allegory. Starring out actor Mark Patton as Jesse Walsh and Robert Englund as the iconic Freddy Krueger, Nightmare 2 includes enough subtext to earn a distinguished position in the history of LGBT cinema. From Jesse’s trip to a gay leather bar where he is discovered by his P.E. teacher and the following death scene in which the teacher is stripped naked and murdered in the showers of Springwood High’s gym to lines such as, “He’s inside me and he wants to take me again!” there’s plenty here to keep this horror classic at the top of LGBT Halloween favorites for years to come. —J.P.
46. High Art (1998): In lesbian director Lisa Cholodenko’s disarming look at addiction, ambition, love and lust, and all that comes with it starts with Radha Mitchell as Syd, a (currently) straight 20-something magazine editor. When she meets her upstairs neighbor, lesbian junkie photographer Lucy, played pitch-perfectly by Ally Sheedy, the lives of both begin to change. Lucy and her girlfriend, Greta (a fading star who is even more hooked on heroin), inhabit an exotic, alluring, and strangely elusive world that draws Syd in until she and Lucy wind up in bed (one of the best lesbian sex scenes on film) and in business, and the worlds collide in unexpected ways. —D.A.M.
47. Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013): The Cannes Film Festival made an unprecedented move in 2013 by awarding the Palme d’Or to not only the director of Blue Is the Warmest Color, a romantic drama based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Julie Maroh, but also to its leading actresses: Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. Queer women in audiences around the world relate to the story of a French teenager and her sexual awakening, which is sparked by the arrival of a blue-haired artist who helps lead her on a journey of self-discovery. But thanks to the talents of Exarchopoulos and Seydoux, this tale becomes universal, a love story that is remarkable because it shows two people braving the beautiful and brutal vicissitudes of l’amour. —D.R.
48. Shortbus (2006): Prepare to clutch your pearls and make sure you’ve sent the kids to bed before turning on Shortbus, out director John Cameron Mitchell’s funny, earnest send-up of the ins, outs, ups, and downs of the modern queer dating experience. Complete with a musical threesome that involves out singer-songwriter Jay Brannan singing into another man’s asshole, the film has a documentary feel that’s brought home when viewers inevitably see pieces of their own relationship drama in the myriad couplings at the center of the story. At turns emotional, honest, awkward, and humorous, Shortbus is one of the best, raunchiest LGBT films you’ve probably never seen. —S.B.
49. The Birdcage (1996): This movie is wackadoo-silly, but it holds a place in my heart for some reason. Elaine May wrote this very ’90s, very American adaptation of the Franco-Italian play and film La Cage aux Folles, while her old comedy partner Mike Nichols directed a pretty damn great cast — Nathan Lane, Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, and Dianne Wiest, with Christine Baranski, Hank Azaria, and Calista Flockhart. While it might be too campy, too silly, and too much for audiences today, The Birdcage is a movie with a heart and a soul, which probably helped to change a couple of hearts and minds belonging to parents as conservative as the senator Gene Hackman plays. —M.G.
50. A Single Man (2009): Director Tom Ford (yes, that Tom Ford) took his sweet, elegant time crafting this interpretation of Christopher Isherwood’s novel. The main character, George Falconer (a multiple award-winning performance by Colin Firth), is contemplating and planning his suicide. Isherwood structured the story on a fantasy of what he would do if he lost his lifelong partner, Don Bachardy. Julianne Moore plays the daft, married neighbor friend, Charley, who still carries a torch for Falconer despite his orientation. Firth as Falconer bravely takes on long soliloquies staring directly at the camera and holding us in his thrall. —C.H.
51. Prick Up Your Ears (1987): Based on the book by John Lahr, Stephen Frears’s (Philomena, Dangerous Liaisons) film tells the story of the 1960s bad boy of British theater Joe Orton, from his working class beginnings to becoming the toast of the West End with his hit plays including What the Butler Saw and Loot, and up to his murder at the hands of his longtime lover, Kenneth Halliwell. On the heels of art-house fame with Sid and Nancy, Gary Oldman took on the role of the brilliant lothario and wordsmith Orton while Alfred Molina played the underappreciated Halliwell. The always-welcome Vanessa Redgrave, Julie Walters, and Wallace Shawn costarred. The film, released at the height of the AIDS epidemic, was a revelation in terms of its unabashed portrayal of and embrace of gay sex, with several scenes depicting Orton’s penchant for sex in public spaces or with young men in Morocco. Frears’s direction never shied away from overt male desire, even if a despondent Halliwell would end up killing his wandering lover in a murder-suicide. —T.E.G.
52. Ma Vie en Rose (1997): This tender French film stars an impressive young Georges Du Fresne as Ludovic, a transgender child who can’t wait to grow up to become a beautiful woman. Much to the dismay of Ludovic’s parents, the 7-year-old proudly twirls in frilly dresses, and is convinced that the future holds a happy marriage to a neighborhood boy. Distraught by their own confusion and local disapproval of Ludovic’s nonconformity, the family sends their child to see a psychiatrist, hoping to turn the child into the son they believe he should be. But in an important shift, the psychiatrist affirms Ludovic’s identity as a “girlboy” and helps the parents come to terms with how best to support their child, demonstrating an affirmative position that was decades before its time. —S.B.
53. Mysterious Skin (2004): A departure from the typical flash of New Queer filmmaker Gregg Araki, Mysterious Skin takes a terrifying look at child sexual abuse and its effect on two young men molested by their baseball coach. One of the abused, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is gay and develops an unhealthy relationship with men that spirals into prostitution. The other adolescent, played by Brady Corbet, becomes withdrawn and forgets his past through disassociation. The conclusion is heartbreaking, but carries a modicum of hope. —N.B.
54. Cruising (1980): Although it was once derided as being in the “murderous gay” genre, a new viewing of Cruising, in which Al Pacino starred as an undercover cop investigating a murder in New York’s gay leather scene, shows it’s actually one of the most transgressive early films, depicting gay male sexuality in a way filmmakers even today rarely do. (It wasn’t unheard of in New York’s theaters to find leathermen doing shout-outs, as real gay leathermen were extras on the film.) Adding to the classic status: The director was forced by the MPAA to cut 40 minutes of sexually explicit material in order to avoid an X rating, and it has been long rumored (who knows if it’s true) that those scenes included graphic gay sex scenes, including one in which Pacino himself was at least a watcher, if not a doer. —D.A.M.
55. Fried Green Tomatoes (1991): To be honest, Fried Green Tomatoesprobably would have been higher on this list had the film version stayed true to the novel by Fannie Flagg. Nonetheless, the spirit of the closeness that two women can share is still pretty palpable in this film. Jessica Tandy plays an old woman in a nursing home who tells Kathy Bates the story of two women — the spunky Idgie, played by Mary Stuart Masterson, and Mary Louise Parker’s Ruth — who create incredible bonds in an environment of gender inequality and segregation in 1920s Alabama. Later, Masterson admitted that she and Parker played their characters as lesbians, despite that relationship being watered down in the film. Even those with an untrained eye can tell and appreciate their performances. —M.G.
56. Valley of the Dolls (1967): This much anticipated film version of Jacqueline Susann’s scandalous best-seller about booze, dope, and showbiz was a spectacular mess. Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke, Sharon Tate, and Susan Hayward ate the scenery. Never mind the men; they were all overshadowed by the deep camp of Duke and Hayward. Despite the open fag-bashing in the script, it was a film much quoted, parodied, and reenacted by a generation of gay men before there were many films with gay content. Uping the gay voltage are the recordings and costume tests for Judy Garland before she was axed from the film. Lucille Ball was next considered, and then the role landed happily in the iron fists of Susan Hayward. —C.H.
57. C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005): This French-Canadian film about Zac, a young gay guy growing up in the ’70s in a homophobic environment, is a coming-of-age story on its surface but a father-son story at its core. Gervais, Zac’s father, struggles with accepting his son’s homosexuality, and Zac aims to make his father proud (often failing), transforming this into a story that transcends time period or setting. C.R.A.Z.Y. was the breakout film for Dallas Buyers Clubdirector Jean-Marc Vallee and remains one of his biggest hits, both critically and commercially. —Kevin O’Keeffe
58. Hairspray (1988): While the 2007 musical remake starring Queen Latifah was a solid effort, nothing compares to the sheer fabulousness and absurdity that abounds in John Waters’s original iteration of Hairspray. As if legendary drag queen Divine’s inclusion as the iconic Edna Turnblad wasn’t enough to get you on board with this classic, keep in mind that you’ll also be treated to Debbie Harry as Velma Von Tussle, Sonny Bono as Franklin Von Tussle, Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad, and Jerry Stiller as Wilbur Turnblad. Add in some poignant discussion of segregation and discrimination, topped with Waters’s trademark camp, and there’s no question this belongs on the must-see list of LGBT films. —S.B.
59. When Night Is Falling (1996): An erotic and quietly beautiful film, about a professor at a Christian college (gorgeous Pascale Bussières) who discovers a a few things about herself when she falls in love with a circus performer (the also-gorgeous Rachael Crawford). Both women are excellent in their roles, as is hunky Henry Czerny as the fellow faculty member spurned by Bussieres’s character. From gifted writer-director Patricia Rozema, who is both a lesbian and a Christian college alum, the story is true-to-life and dreamlike at the same time. —T.R.
60. The Last of Sheila (1973): When it comes to the horror-camp genre, few films can match The Last of Sheila’s almost-too-ridiculous-for-its-own-good style and groove. And that’s a satisfying thing that seems well earned; at least according to Bruce Vilanch, who has called it one of his all-time favorites. Written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins — who had once been lovers — and costumed by Joel Schumacher (need we say more, mmm-kay?), the film follows movie producer Clinton Greene and six of his industry friends on a week-long Mediterranean cruise aboard his yacht, named after his dead wife Sheila, who was killed in a hit-and-run on the affluent streets of Bel Air. It turns out that each guest also happened to be present at Clinton’s home one year ago, the night Sheila died. Once they set sail, with a hunky Italian crew in tow, Clinton decides to play a game he calls “The Sheila Greene Memorial Gossip Game,” which requires everyone to write down a “pretend piece of gossip” or secret on an index card. The first card reads, “You are a shoplifter.” The second card reads, “You are a homosexual.” And the third card reads, “You are a hit-and-run killer.” Of course, the opposite of the desired effect emerges in warped increments after Clinton turns up dead. Who did what? And more important, who did gay things to whom? Starring James Coburn, James Mason, Raquel Welch, Dyan Cannon, and Ian McShane. —Christopher Donaldson
61. Better Than Chocolate (1999): This Canadian production resonated with audiences thanks to its sexy leads and light touch, coming off off as just another enjoyable romantic comedy, save for a lesbian twist. High jinks ensue when a young woman tries to keep her visiting mother and brother from her new female lover, but things turn out just fine in the end. In the days of Boys Don’t Cry, LGBT audiences were hungry for a queer love story that didn’t end tragically, and Better Than Chocolate delivered. And who can forget that sexy yet strange body-painting scene? —N.B.
62. Jeffrey (1995): Featuring a star-studded cast that included Steven Weber, Michael T. Weiss, Bryan Batt, and Patrick Stewart, Jeffrey provided an inspiring message and an honest examination of dating, romance, and lasting relationships for gay men in the time of AIDS. —J.P.
63. La Cage aux Folles (1978): Leave it to the French and Italians to take the subject of homophobia and skewer it with a hilarious farce. A mainstay at big-city art houses and small-town video stores for most of the ’80s, the European film production of La Cage tells the story of a gay St. Tropez couple, Renato and Albin, trying to play straight for the girlfriend of Renato’s son and her conservative family. There’s no shortage of stereotypes in the movie, based on a play and later remade into a Broadway musical and then the film The Birdcage, but everyone’s a target. Most importany, Renato and Albin come off as lovable and very much in love. —N.B.
64. Rope (1948): Another example (see also Strangers on a Train) of Alfred Hitchcock putting one over on the Hollywood censors. Farley Granger and John Dall play an obviously gay couple who decide to murder a friend just to prove they can (there are echoes of the Leopold-Loeb case in the film), and they expect to get away with it. No, the gay characters aren’t likable or admirable, but not every movie has to have role models. The film is known for its technical expermentation, with Hitch shooting in long, continuous takes, but that’s really less important than the excellent characterizations, including James Stewart out of nice-guy mode as the couple’s former professor, and the director’s signature macabre humor, with the couple holding a cocktail party for the victim’s friends and family while his body’s in a trunk in the same room. —T.R.
65. The Children’s Hour (1961): Not a positive consideration of lesbianism but a historically significant one. Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine run an exclusive girls’ school, and a bratty student starts a rumor that they’re lovers. This being a 1961 film of a 1934 play (by Lillian Hellman), the rumor is devastating and the consequences tragic. The stars are appealing and their performances excellent, but the movie will most likely enrage you. Still, it’s an important example of how even the intimation of homosexuality was depicted in a less enlightened age. —T.R.
66. To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995): At a time when LGBT representation was primarily reserved for independent and art films, Universal Pictures brought the battle against homophobia to the mainstream with To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. The adventures of three drag queens who find themselves stranded in a small town after their car breaks down on a cross-country trip starred Hollywood hunks Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo. The star power of the three leading men not only made the film a modest success but also helped usher in a new era for LGBT representation in mainstream movies. —J.P.
67. Beginners (2010): This thoughtful story of a father who, after his wife dies, comes out to their son (Ewan McGregor) was inspired by the real-life experiences of filmmaker Mike Mills. It follows Christopher Plummer, who won an Oscar for the role, as a senior relieved to finally embrace his identity, and who is trying to keep up with a new (and much younger) boyfriend while learning what it means to be gay at age 75, just five years before he would die of cancer. All of a sudden dad is writing political letters and even tries out a gay club. Why not? —Lucas Grindley
68. Velvet Goldmine (1998): There are glam bisexuals and gays, a sometimes confusing style, and a top-notch cast in director Todd Haynes’s ’70s-era drama, said to be based loosely on David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust period. Areporter played by Christian Bale goes in search of a former glam-rock star, Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) by interviewing his former lover Curt (Ewan McGregor) and ex-wife Mandy (Toni Collette), and the film recounts their stories in a haphazard series of vignettes. —D.A.M.
69. Rent (2005): We know there’s nothing that can compare to the powerful impact of seeing Rent performed live onstage. But for those of us who weren’t able to see the iconic AIDS musical on the Great White Way, the 2005 feature film brought the passion, heartbreak, and inspiration of living for “No Day But Today” into our Midwestern movie theaters. And since the film featured six of the actors who originated the roles on Broadway, being in the theater was like having a front-row seat for one of the longest-running and most powerful shows ever to grace that famous thoroughfare. —S.B.
70. The Broken Hearts Club (2000): A cute comedy about a group of everyday gay men in West Hollywood from out director Greg Berlanti, creator of Everwood and Arrow, based on him and his friends. Some great actors are in the cast, including Timothy Olyphant, Zach Braff, and Dean Cain, but the best is Frasier star John Mahoney, who plays an older restaurant owner who serves as mentor, friend, and father figure, totally debunking the chickenhawk sterotype. The comic ordinariness of the movie — after decades of films about coming out, loss, and angst — turns out to be its biggest strength. —D.A.M.
71. Bent (1997): A beautiful love story set in a devastating place, Bent is about two men who fall in love in a concentration camp. Starring Clive Owen and Ian McKellan among others, and based on a play, it won the 1997 Prize of the Youth at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s a horrific reminder that among the prisoners locked away and killed during the Holocaust were those wearing pink triangles — where that tragic symbol originated. At the start of the story, Owen’s character strikes a deal to wear a yellow star reserved for those who are Jewish but eventually dons the pink triangle with pride. —L.G.
72. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999): Adapted from the 1955 novel by Patricia Highsmith and directed by Anthony Minghella, The Talented Mr. Ripley, much like its protagonist, manages to be both beguiling and terrifying in its portrayal of a man trying to rise from his lowly social station through deception and charm. Tom Ripley’s (Matt Damon) desire to be among the upper crust, exemplified by a couple portrayed with WASPy ease by Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law, frequently overlaps into his sexual longing for the character played by Law, who has never looked handsomer as a selfish scion. The Talented Mr. Ripley is an essential film for LGBTs because it understands with cutting acumen the yearning to belong as well as the life-and-death consequences that can come from revealing a secret. The movie also contains a brief but stellar performance from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who in his wry portrayal of the social gatekeeper Freddie Miles (“Tommy, Tommy, Tommy…”) steals every scene he’s in. —D.R.
73. Dallas Buyers Club (2013): Sure, it has its critics, some of who see the transgender character as a tired trope, and some who feel that because it focuses on a straight man (who in real life may not have been so straight), Dallas Buyers Club de-gayed the early years of the AIDS epidemic — when the concept of “living with HIV” was nonexistent — as well as the impact of gay men who fought the makers of AZT, set up buyers’ clubs, and died of the disease. But the film stands as a time capsule of those early days as well as an emotional treatise on living and dying fearlessly. Based on the true story of Ron Woodroof, a hard-drinking and drugging rodeo cowboy who tests positive for HIV and must battle the specter of death, a scientific community dragging its feet, and his redneck buddies who, like him, are homophobic. He must learn to navigate a world of gay and transgender people, those who he begrudgingly befriends and finds support from when he begins importing medications from Mexico that he thinks will treat HIV better than AZT. As Woodroof, Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey is pure revelation, so immersed in the role that the Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions, the sweat, and the emaciation (he lost 60 pounds for the role) seem as real on him as they were on friends who were dying all around you in 1989. Fellow Oscar-winner Jared Leto, as a trans woman who serves as the heart and soul of the film, is similarly captivating. —D.A.M.
74. Showgirls (1995): The movie that simultaneously launched and killed the film career of Elizabeth Berkley may have bombed at the box office, but it quickly grabbed the attention of LGBT fans — who enjoyed the film as much for its campy, over-the-top performances as the sexual tension between Berkley’s Nomi Malone and Gina Gershon’s Cristal Connors. Now considered a queer cult classic, Showgirls has enjoyed a second life largely due to the film’s sizable LGBT following and can still be seen at event screenings hosted by groups of drag queens in theaters throughout the country. —J.P.
75. Some Like It Hot (1959): “Why would a guy want to marry a guy?” “Security!” OK, Billy Wilder’s comedy of cross-dressing is from an era when no one thought that someday same-sex marriage would be accepted, but it’s a gender-bending masterpiece nonetheless. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis play Roaring Twenties musicians who must go on the lam after they witness a gangland slaying, so they disguise themselves as women and join an all-female orchestra. While in drag, Lemmon’s character attracts a wealthy male suitor (veteran comic Joe E. Brown). It’s hilarious fun as well as a little subversive, and it also features Marilyn Monroe at her most pulchritudinous. By the way, the film’s famous last line, “Nobody’s perfect” (to avoid spoilers, we won’t tell you the context), is engraved on Wilder’s gravestone. —T.R.
76. Were the World Mine (2008): If only there were a magic potion that lets you make your neighbors gay, then maybe they’d finally understand what it’s like to be us. Scoring a hit at Outfest, filmmaker Thomas Gustafson makes that dream happen for a fictional homophobic town as one high school student discovers the power to turn people gay. While playing the mischevious Puck in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (naturally), he teaches the town about falling in love, without labels. —L.G.
77. Far From Heaven (2002): Gay writer-director Todd Haynes pays worthy homage to the 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk. Julianne Moore is exquisite as a suburban housewife whose life is upended when she discovers her husband (Dennis Quaid) is gay, and she finds herself attracted to a black gardener (Dennis Haysbert). Haynes does it all in the lush Sirk style, while addressing issues that stayed under the radar of ’50s films. —T.R.
78. Querelle (1982): Based on Jean Genet’s novel Querelle de Brest, this sultry, sexy, surrealistic film was directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who unfortunately died of an overdose during the editing. Ridiculously sexy Brad Davis stars as Querelle, a sailor who likes to take it rough, so purposefully loses a wager to brutish Nono (played by Fassbinder’s real-life ex), and Nono takes Querelle’s ass as his winnings. It was freighted by bad reviews on release but now has a trapped-in-amber charm. Jeanne Moreau sings the title song endlessly, with lyrics by Oscar Wilde. The camp is dry, and the sky stays at a permanent golden dusk. Jean Cocteau would approve. —C.H.
79. The Crying Game (1992): The film is a bit misunderstood, in large part due to the amount of parody “the twist” received after it hit theaters (Ace Ventura might be the most famous example). But looking more closely, it emerges as a pretty meaningful story of an IRA member (Stephen Rea), his prisoner (Forest Whitaker), and the woman he promises to protect (Jaye Davidson). It’s complex and nuanced as it tackles race, gender, and sexuality, and though it would be more groundbreaking had it flipped the film’s subjectivity around, the film at best offered up not what “should” happen but what too often “does” happen when straight men realize their own ideas about gender are wrong. (See Boys Don’t Cry for another example of the same thing.) —D.A.M.
80. In & Out (1997): The first big blockbuster comedy about coming out (unless you count Mr. Wrong, which is a read-between-the-lines allegory of Ellen’s coming-out), this Frank Oz popcorn flick is famous for the (then-groundbreaking) 10-second kiss between Kevin Kline and Tom Selleck, both big stars at the time. The film is inspired by Tom Hanks’s real-life Oscar speech in which he thanked his gay high school drama teacher. In this one, Kline plays the teacher who is outed by a former student at the Oscars, only it’s news to him. But something about it inspires him to reevaluate, and it’s not just hunky Tom Selleck. Laughs ensue. It’s the type of gay movie you can watch with your grandparents. —D.A.M.
81. Tongues United (1989): This powerful film, part documentary, part spoken-word poetry, and all about black men loving men, should be required viewing for any intro to queer film studies class. Filmmaker Marlon Riggs enlisted the assistance of black gay men living through the peak of the AIDS epidemic, giving a moving, rhythmic voice to a community that was swept under the political rug for multiple identities considered unpalatable in late-1980s America. Archival footage documenting the revolutionary act of black men loving one another and standing up for equality is poignantly cut with equally moving poetry recited by Essex Hemphill to create an important snapshot of the resilience, wit, and undeniably dynamic nature of this essential part of our community. —S.B.
82. Philomena (2013): Judi Dench stars in the title role as Philomena Lee, a woman determined to recover a son she was forced to give up for adoption to an American family in the 1950s, when she bore the child out of wedlock within a conservative Irish Catholic community. With the assistance of a journalist (Steve Coogan), Lee embarks on a quest for reunion and redemption to discover the remarkable story of her son, a gay man who had risen to become a high-ranking official in the Reagan administration before succumbing to AIDS during his own search for his family. Based on a true story and nominated for four Academy Awards, the film has garnered almost universally positive reviews from critics, who particularly hail Dench’s Oscar-nominated performance as the mother who would not give up on her child. —D.R.
83. Mommie Dearest (1981): The queen mother of the camp genre. Faye Dunaway claims playing Joan Crawford ruined her career. What was she supposed to do? Play it subtle? Have you ever seen a Joan Crawford film? Every scene and every line is deliciously quotable and laughable. Child abuse has never been funnier. Diana Scarwid played Christina in a vacuum and came out of the disaster less damaged. Parodies still abound, and Rutanya Alda, who played Carol Ann, Joan Crawford’s aide-de-camp, is currently pushing her own book on the filmmaking experience, with terrifying tales of Dunaway antics. Look for Rutanya on YouTube. —C.H.
84. X-Men 2 (2003): This Marvel popcorn flick certainly contextualized the hysteria and panic that “otherness” creates, especially back in the early 2000s when people were voting on the constitutional rights of a minority group. Of course, instead of gay people, it’s mutants who face mainstream discrimination and have to come out to family members, sometimes hiding their powers or flocking to places where their mutant status was accepted (in this case, Professor X’s School for Gifted Youngsters). This and the first X-Men movie were directed by Bryan Singer, who is gay, and starred Ian McKellen as the uncanny Magneto and bisexual actress Anna Paquin as the captivating Rogue. —M.G.
85. Six Degrees of Separation (1993): A young man (Will Smith) insinutates his way into the lives of several wealthy New Yorkers by claiming to be Sidney Poitier’s son. He wreaks some havoc and causes one socialite (Stockard Channing, in a stunning performance) to reevaluate her worldview and consider how we’re all connected, and his scheme is all rooted in a gay youth’s desire for acceptance by his family. John Guare adapted his Broadway hit for the screen, with Fred Schepisi directing; besides the fine work of Smith and Channing, there are excellent perormances by Donald Sutherland, Ian McKellen, Heather Graham, and more. —T.R.
86. Edge of Seventeen (1998): Hailed by L.A. Weekly as a wise and thoughtful depiction of queer youth, director David Moreton’s Edge of Seventeen is a frank and authentic representation of growing up gay in middle America in the MTV generation. Featuring a talented cast including Chris Stafford and Lea DeLaria, this coming-out story is a rite of passage for any LGBT film aficionado. —J.P.
87. Go Fish (1994): One of the most important lesbian films of all time, the indie romantic drama Go Fish was lauded when it came out in the early 1990s as the first film about being a lesbian — not coming out in Desert Hearts or struggling with desires as in The Children’s Hour, etc. — and it tackled a number of important themes with believable scenes and actors who looked, sounded, and felt authentic. It launched the careers of director Rose Troche (producer of Concussion) and her then-girlfriend, screenwriter Guinevere Turner (of American Psycho fame), and helped mirror conversations happening in the real world about butch-femme dichotomies, familial pressures for queers of color, owning lesbian history, and why lesbians who sleep with men get lambasted. —D.A.M.
88. Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss (1998): Starring Brad Rowe and a pre-Will & Grace Sean Hayes, Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss is a tale of gay unrequited love with a twist. Now considered a staple of ’90s queer cinema, the film was a welcome slice of realistic gay life at a time when LGBT characters who survived a film’s end were a rare find. —J.P.
89. Party Monster (2003): Based on the memoir Disco Bloodbath by James St. James, Party Monster details James’s relationship with New York party promoter Michael Alig. The story documents Alig’s rise from small-town outcast to “King of the Club Kids” and his eventual drug-fueled downward spiral that led to his involvement in the murder of his roommate, fellow Club Kid Andre “Angel” Melendez. The film’s star-studded cast includes Seth Green as James and Macaulay Culkin as Alig. There are notable cameos by Richard J. Eichhorn (Richie Rich) and Amanda Lepore, who were both real-life members of Alig’s gang of New York City personalities, the Club Kids. —J.P.
90. Heathers (1989): A cult classic, Heathers is a cutting satire of the American high school experience as seen through the eyes of Veronica (Winona Ryder). As both outsider and invitee into the “Heathers” clique, a group of three popular girls named Heather, Veronica is the ideal lens through which to view the brutal social dynamic of young Americans, which turns lethal when the death of one of the Heathers leads to a media-driven rash of teen suicides. In one memorable scene, two bully jocks are murdered by Veroncia’s love interest, J.D. (Christian Slater), who plants props and a note that leads the public to believe they were closeted gay lovers. Faux martyrs for homophobia aside, Heathers remains an important film for generations of LGBT viewers for its wit and prescient message that the social pressures of youth, left unmitigated, can have perilous consequences. —D.R.
91. It’s My Party (1996): In It’s My Party, a man (Eric Robertson) who discovers that he will soon die of an AIDS-related illness decides to throw a party, inviting his closest family and friends for one last hurrah before a planned suicide. The guests, played by a cast including Margaret Cho, Olivia Newton-John, George Segal, Marlee Matlin, Roddy McDowall, and Dennis Christopher, are not sure how to take the news, with many vacillating between a celebration of his life to the pain that comes of knowing a loved one is about to die. Released in 1996 just after the height of the HIV and AIDS crisis in the United States, It’s My Party is a powerful film that captures how one man handled what for many in that era was their greatest fear: testing positive for HIV and being deserted by a partner. —D.R.
92. Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971): John Schlesinger’s Oscar-nominated film examines the psychologically nuanced love triangle between three Londoners: A straight 30-something woman, a gay 40-something man, and their much younger bisexual lover. Award-winning actress Glenda Jackson plays the role of Alex Greville, a recent divorcee who works in an employment office and happens to share the man she loves with Daniel Hirsch (Peter Finch), a Jewish doctor withstanding the solitude of middle age and the treadmill of daily life. Over the course of several days, both of them calmly analyze their mutual but crumbling romances with Bob Elkin (Murray Head), a young free-spirited sculptor who would rather move to New York City for his art than embrace what he sees as the tiresome rhythms of committed relationships. Sunday Bloody Sunday’s willingness to refuse to stereotype its gay characters as desperate, neurotic loners sets it far apart from Schlesinger’s previous work Midnight Cowboy. Still, as Roger Ebert wrote in 1971, “This is not a movie about the loss of love, but about its absence.” —C.D.
93. Lilies (1996): A bishop’s visit to a prison to listen to the confession of a boyhood friend jailed for murder 40 years earlier unfolds into a haunting tale of lost love. The inmates act out the story of the confessor and his doomed romance with the beautiful closeted Vallier. The play within the film tells of a gay awakening, but even the female roles are acted by men because it all takes place in prison. —J.P.
94. Heavenly Creatures (1994): Gorgeous and captivating, Heavenly Creatures is a study in the psychosit and overwhelming qualities of teenage love, but unlike other cinematic forays with lesbian killers (think Basic Instinct), this one is real and resonant with a crime based on true life that never feels exploitive. Directed by Peter Jackson (long before Lord of the Rings fame), the New Zealand drama features Kate Winslet (pre-Titanic) and Melanie Lynskey (making her film debut at 16, long before Two and a Half Men made her famous) as two teenagers falling in love and creating their own colorful world — it’s so iconic it was parodied on The Simpsons in 2009 — who are then pushed to murder (the real-life case it’s based on is the notorious Parker-Hulme murder in 1954 New Zealand). —D.A.M.
95. Sunset Boulevard (1950): Billy Wilder’s film about fame and obscurity triggers the inner diva. An iconic film for gay folks before there were films for gay folks, it won three Oscars (and former silent screen star Gloria Swanson was robbed of an Oscar for Best Actress by Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday). Hunky William Holden becomes a stand-in for every reluctant gigolo, and Erich von Stroheim is Swanson ex-husband-now-butler in heel-clicking sycophancy. Swanson’s Norma Desmond is still the most delusional and imperious Medusa projection of all time, but also see Carol Burnett’s “Nora Desmond” take-off. —C.H.
96. Victim (1961): A British suspense film once banned in the U.S., Victim is a blackmail-centric story about then-illegal gay sex that featured the first English-language utterance of the word “homosexual” on film. Featuring gay actors such as Dennis Price, Hilton Edwards, and (possibly) star Dirk Bogarde, the film was massively controversial upon its first release in the U.K. Victim led to the softening of views on homosexuality in the nation, even potentially influencing British law toward the passing of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, making gay sex legal in England and Wales. —K.O.
97. How To Survive a Plague (2012): Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards, How to Survive a Plague is a widely acclaimed film that traces the genesis of the activist organization ACT UP through the early days of the AIDS crisis. Directed by David France, the film pieced together more than 700 hours of archival footage that includes a mass die-in in St. Patrick’s Cathedral as well as interviews with Larry Kramer, Ed Koch, Mathilde Krim, and more. It is an essential time capsule that chronicles the efforts of a group of brave individuals who fought to make history and save the lives of gay people and others affected by HIV and AIDS. —D.R.
98. The Color Purple (1985): Based on the acclaimed novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple solidified both Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey as formidable actors. In this film set in the early 20th century in the deep south. Goldberg plays Celie, who is abused endlessly at the hands of her father. She’s forced to marry a widower, known as Mister (Danny Glover). An old flame of his, Shug (Margaret Avery) comes to stay with him, and unbeknownst to Mister, Shug and Celie begin an intimate relationship, which is, of course, way more apparent in the book than the film. Meanwhile, Celie finds inspiration through Winfrey’s character, Sofia. This movie is all about strength, confidence, and perseverance. It’s a reminder, especially for LGBT people, women, and people of color, that our ancestors had to sacrifice so much — even the simple act of being themselves — so we could live better lives a century later. —M.G.
99. Best in Show (2000): In what is most likely the queerest mock documentary, or “mockumentary,” by director Christopher Guest, various couples prepare their prize pooches for the coveted title of “Best in Show.” It’s tough competition, but the gay couple, played by John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean, steals the show (or scenes, at the very least) with the primping of their shih tzu, Miss Agnes. Over a decade before she would attain television stardom with Glee, Jane Lynch radiates both comedic talent and sex appeal, which tempts Jennifer Coolidge away her elderly husband. The film, which won critical acclaim and a wide audience, should be applauded for showing straight audiences that gays are just as crazily normal as the rest. —D.R.
100. Mean Girls (2004): Why this hasn’t won every award known to humankind for the art of filmmaking, we could not tell you. Lindsay Lohan, at the top of her game, stars as Cady Heron, an astute teenager being introduced — after living with her family in Africa for several years — to one of the most wild and dangerous environments around: an American public high school. As a stunt, she gets involved with the Plastics, the alpha squad of queen bees who rule this school. Tina Fey masterfully updates the world of Heathers with an anthropological spin. And most important, Mean Girls brought us the terms “Too gay to function,” “Boo, you whore,” “Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen,” and “You can’t sit with us.” This is definitely a film to be passed down to the generations of mean girls and the girls who loathe them. —M.G.
101. Fame (1980): It simply couldn’t be an authoritative list of LGBT movies without Fame, a musical film that has gone on to spawn a veritable franchise that includes a popular stage musical, a television show, and a film remake in 2009. Inspired by the real-life New York High School of Performing Arts, Fame follows a group of creatively talented teenagers as they sing, dance, and audition their way through the drama of high school life. One of the main characters, Montgomery, wrestles with being gay and comes out to the school, an important plot that showcases the parallels between a gay man’s and an entertainer’s desire for acceptance. Moreover, songs from the film, like “Fame” and “The Body Electric,” remain radio favorites that have made an indelible impact on popular culture. —D.R.
102. The Rules of Attraction (2002): Based on the acclaimed novel by gay author Bret Easton Ellis, The Rules of Attraction showed a national audience one of the most acute pains of being gay — falling in love with a straight man that can’t reciprocate. As the character of Paul, played by the beautiful Ian Somerhalder, learns, a gay man must tread carefully when navigating these straits, as he experiences first physical abuse for approaching a closeted jock and then emotional torment when he falls for the clueless and straight Sean Bateman, portrayed by James Van Der Beek. For LGBTs, The Rules of Attraction remains a compelling drama for its depiction of the perils of unrequited love on an American college campus. —D.R.
103. Concussion (2013): Often called a lesbian Belle de Jour by critics, in reference to the French film about a young wife who leads a secret life as an escort, Concussion is a marvel of a movie that delves deep into modern-day feminism and the realities of a post–marriage equality world. Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence) and Abby Ableman (Robin Weigert) are married with children in the New Jersey suburbs, when Abby, after an unexpected knock to the head, starts to see the world differently. Under the auspices of renovating a Manhattan apartment, she begins to have sex with other women of a variety of ages for money and pleasure. The experience is one that opens her eyes while simultaneously threatening her long-term relationship with her partner. Beautifully written and directed by first-time filmmaker Stacie Passon and produced by Rose Troche of Go Fish fame, Concussion is a feeling that leaves one reeling. —D.R.
104. Stonewall (1995): This historical dramedy, an adaptation of Martin Duberman’s memoir, tells the story of a group of gay men in the days prior to the Stonewall Riots. Starring a young Fred Weller and a pre-ScandalGuillermo Diaz, Stonewall uses the riots both as subject and setting, primarily focusing on Weller’s Matty Dean and his back-and-forth between his lovers but also featuring details about how the riots came to be. Though the film ends just as the riots are gearing up, the way it builds the pre-Stonewall world is invaluable and makes it a definitive part of LGBT cinema. —K.O.
105. Happy Together (1997): The story of two passionate, on-again-off-again lovers won Best Director for Wong Kar-wai at Cannes. It follows Yiu-Fai and Po-Wing on a trip to Argentina that seems to leave the couple falling apart. On a list of the 50 most essential gay films from Out magazine, playwright Tony Kushner described Happy Together‘s leading men enthusiastically. “The actors are both brilliant, funny, and terrifically moving, irritating and endearing,” he wrote. “They bicker, battle, and make love with complete abandon, and — well, why not say it? — they’re the sexiest gay couple ever filmed.” —L.G.
106. We Were Here (2011): We Were Here tackles the epic tale of the early years of AIDS in San Francisco through intimate interviews with five people — four gay men and one straight woman — whose experiences with care giving, research, art, activism and personal loss poignantly illuminate an extraordinary time. The film received rave reviews upon its release and sparked a dialogue between survivors of that era and a younger generation of gay men who are often afraid to ask about the AIDS crisis. Director David Weissman described the making of the film to The Advocate, saying, “We cried pretty much every day in the editing room, but there was a point where we realized we weren’t crying at sadness, we were crying at beauty. Partly the beauty that was being expressed on-screen but partly a realization of what it might generate, the healing capacity of the film.” —D.R.
107. Pariah (2011): Pariah, a coming-of-age tale about a 17-year-old black lesbian in Brooklyn, N.Y., is a breakthrough film that is marked by a strong performance from actress Adepero Oduye, who, as the protagonist Alike, explores and eventually embraces her sexuality within an environment where the stakes of such honesty are high. When Alike finally reveals her true self to her parents, the results are both heartbreaking and hopeful. Written and directed by Dee Rees and produced by Spike Lee, Pariah was lauded by critics, who praised how it imbued the familiar narrative of coming out with a freshness and vitality that resonated with audiences regardless of sexual orientation. —D.R.
108. Different for Girls (1996): Childhood best friends meet up again decades later in London after one of them has come out as a transgender woman in this delightful British comedy. Kim (played by Steven Mackintosh, a British TV star perhaps best know to U.S. audiences for his roles in the Underworld and Kick Ass series) now has a nice, tidy life and doesn’t want anything to change it, while handsome and charming Paul (Rupert Graves from Sherlock, who played gay in the 1987 classic Maurice) has a knack for troublemaking. After they reunite unexpectedly, the two are yin and yang, arguing and falling for each other in every other scene, with some hiccups and a major social faux pas along the way. —D.A.M.
109. Tick Tock Lullaby (2007): Lesbian filmmaker Lisa Gornick (who also stars) offered a brilliant look at a lesbian couple’s desire (or decision, really) to procreate, the waning of romanticism around the reality of conception, and the powerful emotions (jealousy, confusion, and more) that surround it. It has some themes that could make you roll your eyes (like the potential of a lesbian having sex with a man) if it weren’t for how skillfully and honestly the film tackles them. —D.A.M.
110. Monster (2003): This list can’t just be all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. Monster is the gripping tale of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a lesbian and highway prostitute based in Daytona Beach, Fla., who engages in a killing spree as a means of survival and, sort of, dignity. Monster dives deep into the psyche of one of the first known female serial killers in the United States, and how her dark past influenced her troubled life. The film centers around Wuornos’s (Charlize Theron) relationship with a young woman named Shelby, played by Christina Ricci. Interestingly, the film flips the trope of prostitutes on its head by making the truck-driving johns the victims, instead of the women who put themselves in harm’s way in often desperate situations. This movie will definitely leave you feeling disturbed. —M.G.
111. Law of Desire (1987): Out auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s primary-colored early masterpiece captures the energy of Spain’s La Movida with the kinky verve that is his raison d’être. The 1987 film tells the tale of a gay filmmaker (Eusebio Poncela) who meets and deflowers the beautiful young Antonio (an unreasonably gorgeous Antonio Banderas). As things often go in the Almodovar world, Antonio becomes obsessed with Pablo and he becomes bent on destroying Pablo’s long-term lover, which leads to disaster. One of Almodovar’s favorite leading ladies, Carmen Maura (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) plays Pablo’s transgender sister Tina, who has a whole host of issues of her own. Murder, incest, rape, suicide, and revenge — Law of Desire not only dismantles the horrific by-products of a patriarchal society but serves as a template of sorts for Almodóvar films to follow. And despite the ugliness of some of the plot points, he imbues the film with moments of true tenderness, humor, and beauty. —T.E.G.
112. Kissing Jessica Stein (2001): Dating in any city can make you feel hopeless when it’s just not going well. After a string of awful dates, Jessica Stein (Jennifer Westfeldt) finds herself intrigued by a personal ad placed by art gallerist Helen Cooper (Heather Juergensen). At first, it’s all fireworks, and their relationship advances rapidly. While her relationship with Helen wanes, Jessica’s flailing, neurotic nature eventually falls away, and a more confident Jessica emerges, with a goal to find true happiness on her own terms. By no means is it a model lesbian movie — in fact, the film is a more honest look at bisexuality and sexual fluidity — but it is certainly a movie that encourages exploration and self-awareness. —M.G.
113. Stranger Inside (2001): Cheryl Dunye’s riveting small film was much better than its male-centric blockbuster counterparts. In it, Treasure (played by Yolonda Ross), who is in juvie, learns her bio mom is in prison, so she gets in trouble in order to reunite with her mother. Once there she meets her mom, a tough named Brownie (a fiercely perfect Davenia McFadden), with a prison family that includes Kit (Rain Phoenix) and a vibrant drug trade. A lot of scary prison shit happens, with some genuinely tragic turns and an ending you won’t forget. —D.A.M.
114. Mambo Italiano (2003): Dubbed “My Big Fat Gay Wedding” by Roger Ebert, Mambo Italiano is a 2003 Canadian comedy that captures the delicate dance that can come with coming out to family — particularly for Italians. This is the challenge presented to Angelo (Luke Kirby), whose parents are Italian immigrants dead set on him marrying a woman. He surprises them in this regard but must also help his boyfriend, a closeted policeman, through his own coming out to his Sicilian mother. While the plot falls short of pitch-perfect, Mambo Italiano is a beloved comedy among LGBT sons and daughters of immigrants, who can relate to and find some laugh therapy in the struggles of these gay first-generation Italian men. —D.R.
115. Yossi & Jagger (2002): Perhaps one of the most praised films to deal with love and war is Yossi & Jagger, an Israeli romantic drama. The Hebrew-language movie follows Yossi (Ohad Knoller), a military commander who has a clandestine romance with one of his soldiers, Lior, nicknamed “Jagger” for his luscious lips and similarity in appearance to the American rock star. They are interrupted in their secret affair by the arrival of two female soldiers, who are unaware of their inclinations and begin a process of seduction that threatens to tear the lovers apart. And eventually, the consequences of war take their own pound of flesh. Directed by Eytan Fox, Yossi & Jagger was acclaimed in its native country and again in the United States, where Knoller was named Best Actor at Tribeca for his performance as the heartsick military leader who longed to hear the words that confirmed that his love reciprocated his affections. —D.R.
116. Poison (1991): Todd Haynes’s trio of stories was loosely based on stories by Jean Genet, including Our Lady of the Flowers and The Miracle of the Rose. They look at a 7-year-old who kills his abusive father, then flies away; a scientist who isolates “the elixir of human sexuality” and takes it with dire results; and a prison love story between two men who knew each other as young boys. Haynes, who had previously directed The Karen Carpenter Storyusing a cast of Barbie dolls, always showed an original vision and was considered one of the founders of the New Queer film movement of the ’90s. —C.H.
117. Rebecca (1940): The title character is dead before the story begins, but she haunts everyone in this film, Alfred Hitchcock’s U.S. debut, adapted from a Daphne Du Maurier novel. Rebecca was the beautiful and brilliant first wife of British aristocrat Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), and the second Mrs. De Winter (Joan Fontaine) fears she’ll never quite measure up — especially since ice-queen housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) makes clear how much she resents the new wife’s presence. It is also clear that “Danny” was in love with Rebecca, and Rebecca may have reciprocated. The film offers plenty of suspense and a shattering conclusion, with good performances from all, including George Sanders, more heterosexual than in All About Eve but still deliciously caddish as Rebecca’s cousin and sometime lover. —T.R.
118. The Hunger (1983): Vogue vampires! Once in a while a film comes out that is so cool, and so drop dead chic that it changes everything. Catherine Deneuve was already a lesbian icon (Deneuve Magazine was founded in 1990 and now publishes under the name Curve). Deneuve and David Bowie play urban vampires who trawl downtown clubs at night for fresh blood victims. The problem is Bowie is starting to disintegrate, so Miriam seeks help from gerontologist, Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon). Her subtle power and the seduction scenes with Sarandon blew everybody’s mind. —C.H.
119. The Ritz (1976): The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night director Richard Lester brought writer Terrence McNally’s (Love! Valour! Compassion!) ultra-zany Broadway farce about a straight man hiding out from his mobster brother-in-law in a gay bathhouse to the big screen. Jack Weston stars as Gaetano, the man on the run from the homicidal Carmine Vespucci (a wonderfully rabid Jerry Stiller). While at the Ritz, Gaetano encounters a wacky cast of camp characters that includes a young F. Murray Abraham as his swim-trunk-clad de facto guide and Rita Moreno as the Broadway wannabe cabaret singer Googie Gomez (Moreno won the Tony for the role on Broadway). Treat Williams and Kaye Ballard round out the excellent cast. The Ritz’s embrace of camp stereotypes, straight men in drag, and gay “chubby chasers” could be deemed offensive by a modern audience, but in its day, that’s just what gave it a certain joyous freedom rarely depicted in film at the time. —T.E.G.
120. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962): Joan Crawford and Bette Davis star in the greatest sister movie of all time. The 30 years of rivalry between the two that led up to this Oscar-winning film added fuel to both the performances and the pre-release gossip. Imitated and quoted by generations of gay men, the film spawned a sordid nest of gothic thrillers casting Golden Age stars in their golden years. Aside from the deep purple camp, it’s an excellent film. Heartbreaking and tragic, it also has a feminist edge regarding what Hollywood does to women. “But ya are, Blanche.” —C.H.
121. Grey Gardens (1975): Albert and David Maysles set out to make a documentary about Lee Radizwill, Jacqueline Kennedy’s sister. While doing research they instead became completely entranced by Jackie and Lee’s eccentric aunt and cousin, the big and little Edith Bouvier Beales. A haunting and wistful story, the film was dormant for years until 1992 when it suddenly caught fire with VHS copies circulating among gay men “in the know.” Its popularity grew so quickly that homages were made in fashion magazines, Little Edie was constantly quoted, and eventually a wonderful scripted movie about the Beales was made in 2009 with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange. —C.H.
122. Clueless (1995): This adaptation of Emma is so many things to so many people, but importantly, it was sort of an introduction to feminism for young girls beginning to understand class, gender, and sexuality. (OK, it’s not really that heavy, but go with us here.) Murray’s desire to be “street” and use misogynistic terms clashes with Dionne’s self-respect. At its center, Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) becomes the model friend by playing matchmaker and wielding her extensive knowledge of makeovers. Tai (Brittany Murphy) may be a rough-and-tumble new girl from New York, but Cher takes Tai under her wing to weather the politics of Beverly Hills High School. And then of course Cher falls for the seemingly perfect-for-her Christian, who she later realizes is gay. She’s crestfallen but sticks with him as a friend anyway. Clueless is wonderfully quotable — “He’s a total Baldwin,” “As if,” and “It’s like that book I read in the ninth grade that said, ‘Tis a far, far better thing doing stuff for other people.'” —M.G.
123. Personal Best (1982): Just before the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow, and a couple of years after Title IX, bisexual pentathlete Chris is facing a tumultuous time in her life. Between her rigorous attempts to make the Olympic team, she’s distracted by Tori, a lesbian who has an unbeatable drive to dominate women’s track and field. Chris and Tori (played by actual track athlete Patrice Donnelly) have to go toe-to-toe for two spots on the women’s Olympic team, but the audience knows the real outcome — the Americans never headed to Moscow, so elite runners that year had to eschew a gold medal for the denotation of a “personal best” on their record. —M.G.
124. Rebel Without a Cause (1955): Considered a classic of cinema, Rebel Without a Cause features the greatest performance of actor James Dean, who died in a car crash before the film’s 1955 release. Never has teen angst been captured so poignantly than by Dean’s character Jim Stark, who drinks and fights through his social and parental dilemmas. Perhaps one of the first major gay characters appears in Rebel: Plato (Sal Mineo), who worships Dean’s character, and whose death at the film’s conclusion marks an important moment in American film. Directed by Nicholas Ray, the movie is also notable for the performance of a young Natalie Wood, Dean’s love interest, as well as the switchblade-wielding bully portrayed by actor Corey Allen. Moreover, it gave celebrity to many locations in Los Angeles where it is set, including the Griffith Observatory, where the teens viewed how the universe would end. —D.R.
125. Steel Magnolias (1989): How hard it is to find a film that is both a feminist and camp classic, but Steel Magnolias does it. The film is based on Robert Harling’s stage play about an all-female cast of characters in Louisiana. Dolly Parton, Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Daryl Hannah are all delights, but it’s Shirley MacLaine as a curmudgeonly cynic and Olympia Dukakis as her loving but wisecracking confidant who steal the show. It’s an ensemble story about female friendship, motherhood, love and death, and how fragility and strength can be two sides of the same coin. Plus it’s very funny. And campy — with plenty of quotable dialogue. —D.A.M.
126. The Opposite of Sex (1998): Christina Ricci is the acerbic and witty 16-year-old who moves in with her gay half brother, seduces his boyfriend (who comes out as bisexual), and manipulates the world around her. Best of all, Lisa Kudrow is there to make every scene funny. It’s a Don Roos gem. —D.A.M.
127. Orlando (1992): Based on Virginia Woolf’s fantasy novel of the same name, Tilda Swinton plays the young nobleman who, at Queen Elizabeth I’s command, stays young forever. But Orlando also changes gender and becomes a woman of keen insight and delicate irony. Director Sally Potter got the tone just right here, and of course there is Tilda handling nobility and gender fluidity as only she can. Bon vivant Quentin Crisp has a star turn as Queen Elizabeth. The sets and costumes are superb, which makes the two Oscar nominations in those categories no surprise. —C.H.
128. Valentine Road (2013): Director Marta Cunningham’s powerful documentary unravels the tragedy of Larry King’s 2008 killing by his eighth-grade classmate Brandon McInerney, revealing the heartbreaking circumstances that led to the shocking crime as well as its startling aftermath. Although you might expect to know how you’ll feel about King and his killer, Valentine Road goes deep beyond the headlines and explores the toxic environments that both boys were trying to survive in and uncovers the tragically inadequate response of the school district when reacting to the violence faced and witnessed by its students. —S.B.
129. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951): Admittedly, there are no explictly LGBT characters in this classic adapted from Tennessee Williams’s play of the same name. But LGBT representations weren’t seen on screen in mid-century America. So the out playwright, combined with rumored bisexual lead actor Marlon Brando’s hypermasculine, tortured Stanley Kowalski, and Vivien Leigh’s Blanche DuBois — emotional, unstable, but perhaps not wholly delusional — earn the film an undoubted and hallowed place in the LGBT film canon. Before gay men and lesbians could see themselves represented on the silver screen, the closest they could come were these coded representations of “hysterical” women and troubled men who seemed to have a little too much to prove. Oh, and there’s the mention of Blanche’s “sensitive” late husband. —S.B.
130. Gilda (1946): “There never was a woman like Gilda,” touted the movie posters, and since she was played by the ravishing Rita Hayworth, it wasn’t just hype. But this was a film noir with a twist: Hayworth’s femme fatale comes between a couple of guys who seem to be way more than friends, George Macready as a shady casino owner and Glenn Ford as his right-hand man. Ford said he recognized the movie’s gay subtext in retrospect, “but it never occurred to us at the time we were filming.” No matter — it’s obvious to savvy viewers. —T.R.
131. Imagine Me and You (2005): Taking on her second lesbian role after Lost and Delirious, Piper Perabo stars in this ultimate British lesbian rom-com (think Notting Hill but with lesbians). Her Rachel is happily about to marry Heck (played with irresistible affability by Matthew Goode), but things get complicated when, on her wedding day, Rachel meets Lena Headey’s even more irresistible florist Luce, and it’s pretty much love at first sight. Director Ol Parker (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) delivers a sweet, funny, and thoughtful film that offers the distinctly modern ending in which girl gets girl and boy eventually understands. —T.E.G.
132. Kiss of The Spider Woman (1985): William Hurt won the Academy Award for his sensitive portrayal of Molina, a window dresser imprisoned in Brazil for homosexual activity with a minor during the country’s military dictatorship. The outstanding Raul Julia costars as Molina’s cellmate Arregui, a political dissident to whom Molina obsessively retells the plot to his favorite melodramatic movie, about a dangerously glamorous spider woman (Sonia Braga). Molina falls for Arregui even as their jailers offer Molina a lighter sentence to spy on the revolutionary. Eventually the men form a bond that can only end in tragedy. Based on Manuel Puig’s best seller, the tragically beautiful movie deftly weaves Molina’s celluloid fantasies with the harsh conditions of prison. The entire movie serves as a metaphor of sorts for the kind of escape from oppression that gay people have found at the movies since the dawn of film. —T.E.G.
133. Priest (1994): Father Greg Pilkington (Linus Roache) tries to reconcile his faith and position in the Catholic Church as a priest with his sexuality and love for another man in this groundbreaking 1994 British film. Directed by Antonia Bird, Priest was a darling of the film festival circuit, winning several awards including the People’s Choice Award at the 1994 Toronto International Film Festival. —J.P.
134. The Living End (1992): One of the earliest entries in the New Queer Cinema genre, filmmaker Gregg Araki’s bold and raw dramedy follows two gay, HIV-positive men — one brash and reckless, the other rather meek and cynical — after they meet cute and end up on the road trip to end all road trips. A homophobic cop is killed en route, and the pulchritudinous (and often shirtless) couple, in a queer Gen-X motif, adopt the motto “Fuck everything.” Of course, critics noted parallels to Thelma & Louise, dubbing The Living Enda gay version of the feminist classic. It’s not a film for everyone, but for its generation, it was perfect: cynical, confrontational, romantic, confusing. —D.A.M.
135. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): For anyone who’s ever felt like a misfit, The Perks of Being a Wallflower resonates loudly. The film’s one out gay character, Patrick (Ezra Miller), embodies a simultaneously free-spirited and angsty role that is hard not to love. Patrick is the gay hero and a cool kid — wouldn’t we all have loved to be him in high school? Though the primary love story features straight characters, the real impact of the film lies in the theme of belonging. Patrick, Sam (Emma Watson), and Charlie (Logan Lerman) are a family of friends who are relatable, lovable, and complex. —Mac Q. Simon
136. The Sum of Us (1994): An adaptation of Australian playwright David Stevens’s play of the same name, The Sum of Us tells the story of father Harry (Jack Thompson) and son Jeff (a young Russell Crowe) who live together and are both looking for partners. Instead of presenting the common struggling dad trope, The Sum of Us features an incredibly enthusiastic father excited about his son’s search for a boyfriend. The film’s second part becomes less about looking for love and more about finding it within a parental relationship when Harry has a stroke. —K.O.
137. The Watermelon Woman (1996): Iconic lesbian filmmaker Cheryl Dunye’s first wide-release feature, The Watermelon Woman chronicles the Liberian-born director’s attempt to track down the black 1930s actress known as “The Watermelon Woman.” The film is a compelling mix of documentary and fictional narrative, drawing parallels between Dunye’s budding romance with a white woman and the interracial relationship she discovers took place between the Watermelon Woman and Martha Page, one of Hollywood’s few female directors at the time. The film expertly showcases Dunye’s keen eye for storytelling, pulling viewers in so that we are just as shocked by her discoveries as are her characters. —S.B.
138. Aimée & Jaguar (1999): Based on Erica Fischer’s biography of the unbelievable story of forbidden lesbian love in World War II between a Jewish woman working with the underground and a Nazi officer’s wife, Max Färberböck’s film is as devastating as it is beautiful. Maria Schrader stars as the defiant Felice Schragenheim, who meets Juliane Köhler’s German housewife Lilly Wust and instantly falls in love with her. The unabashed Felice begins a silent affair, at first sending flowers to Lilly and signing the card as “Jaguar.” Eventually, Lilly falls for her “Jaguar.” An incredibly impassioned story that depicts women fearless in their love, the film offers moments of sheer joy as well as utter terror, as the love affair is doomed from the start. —T.E.G.
139. Fire (1996): Directed by Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, Fire,one of the first major films to portray a romance between two women in India, stoked real-life flames upon its release in its country of origin in 1998. Hundreds of protestors stormed movie theaters across the South Asian nation, causing physical damage and driving away audiences. The protests forced many venues to end screenings. But critics around the world praised Fire for its courage in portraying the relationship between Radha (Shabana Azmi) and Sita (Nandita Das), who find refuge from their unhappy marriages and a repressive, male-dominated Indian culture in each other’s arms. The film eventually opened in India without further incident, and its release sparked an international conversation about LGBT rights. —D.R.
140. Bridegroom (2013): In 2011, Tom Bridegroom, 29, accidentally fell off a roof in Los Angeles and died. His untimely death sparked a chain of events that led his partner of more than five years, Shane Bitney Crone, to create a YouTube video that chronicled the legal and social barriers that prevented him from attending the funeral of the man he loved. The video, titled “This Could Happen to You,” went viral, and its success inspired Crone to produce Bridegroom, an 80-minute documentary that further explores the couple’s story. Directed by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (Designing Women), the film went on to win the Audience Award for Best Documentary Film at the Tribeca Film Festival and has since been televised on OWN and Netflix. It is a widely acclaimed love story that, for many, offers a compelling case for the necessity of marriage equality. —D.R.
141. Death in Venice (1971): Gay love was still tragic for the most part in 1971 movies, but this film lifted up the usual sad gay love story to an exquisite level of pain and poetry. Luchino Visconti’s filmic version of the Thomas Mann novel stars Dirk Bogarde as Gustav Aschenbach, a composer (based loosely on Gustav Mahler) who has journeyed to Venice to escape his work and his demons, but he finds no respite. Instead he finds the androgynous and beautiful Tadzio (Björn Andrésen) and becomes obsessed. Visconti used Mahler’s music for the score and perfectly captures the decay of Venice and the onset of a plague. You might need to watch cat videos on YouTube after viewing. —C.H.
142. All About My Mother (1999): Viewed by many critics and cinephiles as Pedro Almodóvar’s best film, All About My Mother is a meditation on the beauty and complexity of women and how some lucky men are endowed with that same mix of softness and grit. It is told through the experiences of Manuela (luminous Argentinian actress Cecilia Roth), who loses and gains children, lovers, and friends during an odyssey through Madrid and Barcelona. The protagonist also encounters AIDS and drugs, but the tale doesn’t feel soapy, only heartfelt. All the characters face life with a passion and resolve that feels uniquely Spanish. With beautiful cinematography and near-perfect performances, out director Almodovar proved himself a global treasure with this film. —N.B.
143. Yentl (1983): It took more than a decade for Barbra Streisand’s opus to finally make it to the screen. Based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy,” about a young Jewish girl who poses as a boy so that she may study the Talmud, the story made a stop on Broadway in 1975 before gay icon Streisand directed and starred in the movie that incorporated Michel Legrand’s original songs — including “Papa, Can You Hear Me” and “The Way He Makes Me Feel.” Streisand took on the titular role of the girl who dresses as a man and immerses herself in Talmudic studies after her father’s death. While all of that alone is worth the price of admission for Streisand devotees, the film also explores markedly fluid gender and desire dynamics as Amy Irving’s Hadass falls for Yentl and is hurt by Yentl’s rejecting her while Mandy Patinkin’s Avigdor is confused by his attraction to his intellectual sparring partner. —T.E.G.
144. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997): The city of Savannah is really the star of Clint Eastwood’s (that’s right, Eastwood directed this gay-themed Southern gothic) big-screen adaptation of John Berendt’s best-selling nonfiction book. The ever-watchable John Cusack plays a writer on assignment in Savannah who ends up covering a story about a Christmastime murder at the home of mustached gay antiques dealer and the toast of the town, Jim Williams (a charmingly smarmy Kevin Spacey foreshadowing his House of Cards character). The murder victim is the hot young male prostitute Billy Hansen (a young and beautiful Jude Law) who had serviced Spacey’s Williams frequently. Rife with mystery, flowing bourbon, Southern heat, voodoo sensibility, and a quirky cast of Savannah locals, including drag diva The Lady Chablis, Midnight is one hell of a fun movie. —T.E.G.
145. Howl (2010): It’s not every day that a poem can change the world. But “Howl,” one of gay poet Allen Ginsberg’s most impactful works, certainly came close with his frenetic, counterculture screed that began “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.” The film of the same title, which stars James Franco as the famous Beat writer, manages to capture glimmers of Ginsberg’s greatness in this account of the obscenity trial that occurred after the controversial poem’s release, with live-action sequences intermingled with animated footage. As Roger Ebert wrote in his favorable review: “The bold, outspoken man of later days is seen here as still a middle-class youth, uncertain of his gayness, filled with the heady joy of early poetic success, learning how to be himself.” —D.R.
146. The Kids Are All Right (2010): This dramedy directed by lesbian filmmaker Lisa Cholodenko about a married same-sex couple and their children was an instant hit among critics upon its 2010 release. The ensemble cast of Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo, who portrayed the hitherto unknown sperm donor who fathered the couple’s children (Mia Wasikowaka and Josh Hutcherson), was praised for its heartfelt and realistic portrayal of a family faced with the crisis that occurs when a stranger comes to town and threatens the foundation of the family unit. The strong acting and story made the film a major contender during awards season, in which it garnered a Best Actress win for Bening at the Golden Globes and four nominations at the Oscars, including Best Picture. —D.R.
147. Wigstock (1995): RuPaul, Alexis Arquette, Joey Arias, and Lypsinka are among the headline acts in Wigstock, a 1995 documentary that captured the extravaganza of the annual drag festival. Although no longer active, Wigstock, which traditionally took place in the East Village on Labor Day, functioned as a mainstay of the gay New York social calendar since the 1980s, and the documentary lovingly captures the campy glamour of the performances as well as under-the-wig glances into the performers backstage. Wigstock also features an appearance by Lady Bunny, one of the festival’s founders and the mistress of ceremonies, who attempts to have the Statue of Liberty bewigged. —D.R.
148. De-Lovely (2004): Cole Porter is one of the most celebrated composers in the realm of 20th-century American theater. Musicals like Anything Goes,which feature catchy, homoerotic songs like “You’re the Top” and “I Get a Kick Out of You,” are still popular today, making household names of actresses like Sutton Foster, who headlined one of the more recent Broadway adaptations. De-Lovely is a musical film starring Kevin Kline as the gay songwriter looking back on his life. And much like a Porter musical, it does not have the strongest script. But De-Lovely is a joy to watch for its revisiting of Porter’s songbook and for its recognition of a gay American who made an indelible mark on The Great White Way. —D.R.
149. Dog Day Afternoon (1975): There are many reasons Dog Day Afternoon has never faded from the national consciousness: It was a tense, well-acted bank robbery film, it had audiences sympathizing with a thug —”Attica! Atttica!” — and a plotline involving a transgender woman. Though incompetent criminal Sonny (Al Pacino) is frightening and dangerous, he’s also risking everything for the love of his life. The whole impetus for the robbery, based on a real-life event in Brooklyn, was to pay for the girlfriend’s gender-reassignment surgery. While that could have been played for humor in 1975, the love story is tragic and human. —N.B.
150. Edward II (1991): Director Derek Jarman took Christopher Marlowe’s play and cranked the gay dial up to 11 in this adaptation. The film portrays King Edward II’s friend Piers Gaveston as his lover and shifts the focus of the kingdom’s ire from Gaveston as a person to gossip about their relationship. Queen Isabella (Tilda Swinton) is the excluded partner, jealous and sexually unfulfilled. The army is recast as gay rights protesters. The adaptation mixes classic and modern elements to craft a time-bending story of gay love and exile, making it an icon of queer cinema. —K.O.
151. Mildred Pierce (1945): Joan wins an Oscar! Crawford’s career looked washed up and then, boom! She wins the gold guy. This is the first of the great mother-daughter movies (see Mommie Dearest). Long-suffering Mildred, wonderfully horrible daughter Veda (Ann Blyth), and campy-as-pink-tea Ida (Eve Arden) give us pathos, mendacity, and irony respectively. Basically the movie is about a lot of people making silly decisions, but how would you make movies if people didn’t? Charles Pierce, Carol Burnett, and many other comedians kept the camp alive through parodies. Restaurants actually sprung up in gay ghettos called Mildred’s. “Aren’t the pies enough?” —C.H.
152. Suddenly Last Summer (1959): “We procured for him!” Elizabeth Taylor’s Catherine screams in the climactic scene of the big-screen version of Tennessee Williams’s Southern gothic about Catherine’s mental breakdown following her cousin Sebastian Venable’s brutal murder at the hands of dozens of young boys while on holiday in Europe. Of course, the famous line is Catherine’s confession that she and his icy mother Violet (Katharine Hepburn), had, with their looks, helped lure young men so that Sebastian could seduce them. Gay actor — and Taylor’s dear friend — Montgomery Clift stars as the young doctor who tries to help the institutionalized Catherine in the film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve) with a screenplay by Gore Vidal. Homosexuality is never overtly named, but as is pointed out in The Celluloid Closet, the film uses imagery straight out of Frankenstein to depict Sebastian’s murder, as the villagers chased the otherized Sebastian to the top of a mountain to eviscerate the monster. —T.E.G.
153. Southern Comfort (2001): One of the saddest trans documentaries is also one of the best as it follows the last year of Robert Eads’s life, the complications that transition brings for FTMs and the ways in which all LGBT have made family. A transgender man, Eads was battling ovarian cancer and was turned down by almost two dozen doctors who were afraid that treating a trans man with cancer would harm their reputations. By the time a doctor would care for him, the cancer was too advanced for his life to be saved. Still, we see the man and his partner, trans woman Lola, and their chosen family fight fear, discrimination, and stigma to be who they are and live with dignity. Eads’s last appearance was at the famed trans gathering Southern Comfort, as he died shortly after. —D.A.M.
154. The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love (1995): The L Word’s Laurel Holloman first won lesbian hearts as Randy, the adorable baby butch outcast who falls for Nicole Ari Parker’s Evie, a beautiful, smart, popular girl with a boyfriend. Even with typical high school Mean Girl-esque odds against her, Randy wins Evie’s heart and the pair fall madly into first real love. But they bump up against teen cliques, plus Randy’s lesbian aunt and caretaker who thinks she should keep things under wraps, and Evie’s mom, who catches them in the act! Maria Maggenti (Puccini for Beginners) directs the indie comedy that so accurately depicts the thrill of nascent love. When a stoned Randy gleefully reads aloud from the copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass that Evie gives her, their budding love affair becomes the stuff of lesbian film legend. —T.E.G.
155. Sordid Lives (2000): The funeral of a loved one sets the stage for the story of a family in a small Texas town and their sordid lives. Among the film’s colorful cast of characters is Ty Williamson (Kirk Geiger), who is struggling with revealing his homosexuality to his family as he makes his own way in West Hollywood. And then there’s Earl “Brother Boy” Ingram, who was institutionalized 23 years ago by his parents because he is a gay man with an affinity for cross-dressing and an obsession with country singer Tammy Wynette. —J.P.
156. Hellbent (2004): Billed as the first gay slasher film, Hellbent follows the story of a serial killer who stalks West Hollywood on Halloween and the group of gay youngsters who foolishly decide to visit the site of his murders. The film serves campy goodness, dramatic deaths, and plenty of shirtless scenes in a worthy attempt to increase LGBT visibility in the horror genre. —J.P.
157. A Home at The End of The World (2004): Michael Cunningham, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Hours, wrote the screenplay based on his novel of the same name about a gay man, a straight woman, and Bobby (Colin Farrell), who defies labels and who they both love. Over the evolution of their relationship, a baby is born, though not how anyone planned it. The three are so interdependent they somehow manage to stick together despite their frustrating emotions for each other, only for AIDS to split them up in the end. —L.G.
158. Carrington (1995): Painter Dora Carrington and author Lytton Strachey found love that transcended the usual bounds of gender and orientation. Emma Thompson and Jonathan Pryce are wonderful as complex lovers forging new territory in freedom of love. Anyone interested in the domestic entanglements of the Bloomsbury set will love this story of a unique commitment that surpassed jealousy and desire. The sexual revolution of the 1960s was really sparked by this small group of men and women trying to resist the cookie-cutter moral expectations of upper-middle class England between the wars. —C.H.
159. Scorpio Rising (1964): Hollywood Babylon author Kenneth Anger created his own niche with this chaotic pastiche of Nazis, bikers, and leather clad S/M boys. Considered psychedelic at the time, it proved to be an early influencer of yet-to-be-invented music videos. The revolutionary soundtrack was dialogue-free and an illegal mash-up of surf music, Elvis Presley, and girl groups like the Shangri-Las. Tattoos, skulls, and random Catholic symbolism make this early underground film oddly fresh today. After a theater owner was arrested for showing the film, Anger won the case against it in the California Supreme Court, opening the doors for greater freedom of expression in film. —C.H.
160. Mulholland Drive (2001): Director David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks) has generated a cult following for his surrealist projects that often shine a spotlight on the unusual and bizarre — and Mulholland Drive may be his most celebrated thriller. Set in Los Angeles, the neo-noir film follows the mystery of a beautiful woman (Laura Harring) who, suffering from amnesia and being chased by unknown threatening forces, seeks to unravel the mystery of her identity with the aid of an aspiring actress and recent arrival to Hollywood (Naomi Watts). In the course of their investigation, the women develop a relationship that becomes intimate, and Lynch’s dark lens lets the viewer catch glimpses of the dangerous consequences that can come with obsession. —D.R.
161. Lonesome Cowboys (1968): Andy Warhol and Paul Morrisey felt their territory was being stepped on by John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy. Warhol had watched his coterie of superstars and hangers-on flock to be extras in the party scenes. So Warhol and Morrisey named their newly shot satire on Hollywood westerns Lonesome Cowboys, hoping folks would be confused. Then they took new talent Joe Dallesandro and made another film about male hustlers: Flesh. Campy, and strangely sweet, Lonesome Cowboys has a cast of hunky Warhol regulars: Tom Hompertz, Eric Emerson, and Louis Waldron. Viva, Taylor Mead, and Francis Francine bring home the camp. —C.H.
162. Love Is The Devil (1998): The beginning of painter Francis Bacon’s and George Dyer’s relationship — Bacon (Derek Jacobi) came upon Dyer burgling his home — was only the start of a roller-coaster affair between two men who lived at the outer edges of life. Bacon was intrigued by Dyer’s anarchic innocence. Dyer dominates Bacon and is prone to psychotic depression — he ultimately committed suicide on the opening night of a show for Bacon. This is not the happy gay pastel love story your mother would like. Beautifully filmed with a reverence for Bacon and his work, and then there is the treat of Daniel Craig as the working-class, rough-hewn Dyer. Oh, and Tilda Swinton balances out the cast. —C.H.
163. The Killing of Sister George (1968): It might be good to note here that this list is made up of important LGBT films, not necessarily happy ones. Beryl Reid stars as June Buckridge, who plays Sister George in a hospital soap opera on the BBC, in this film about a middle-aged lesbian actress hitting the skids. Not upbeat, this film makes The Boys in the Band look like light comedy. The film contains one of the more frightening lesbian seduction scenes ever filmed between the BBC producer who fires Beryl Reid (bisexual actress Coral Browne) and Reid’s lover, the creepily immature Childie (Susannah York). X-rated when released in the United States for intense nipple plucking. —C.H.
164. Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982): Robert Altman transferred Ed Graczyk’s play to the big screen as a filmed play. Retaining the original cast, he opened up the property by showing flashbacks of the women gathered for a reunion of a local 1950s James Dean fan club. Cher, Sandy Dennis, and Karen Black lead the cast as southern women with more quirks and tics than a Tennessee Williams play. Joe Qualley (Mark Patton) is the one male member of the club and a no-show. But then who is this strange woman Joanne (Karen Black) and why does she know so much about them all? —C.H.
165. ParaNorman (2012): This is an animated story of a bullied kid who takes on all kinds of paranormal figures to save his town from an old curse. It also happens to feature a gay kid, in the form of Mitch, a gigantic jock. Sure, featuring the first known gay character in a mainstream American animated film caused the ire of right-wingers everywhere who breathe the words “gay agenda,” but to many, it was just a cool element to a fun movie. —M.G.
166. Mädchen in Uniform (1931): This German film is often credited with being the first feature film to unabashedly advance a pro-lesbian storyline. Aside from making artful use of then-nascent technology of sound in film, the screen adaptation of Christa Winsloe’s play Yesterday and Today (Gestern und huete) was also noteworthy for its all-female cast. The story tenderly explores a 14-year-old student’s fierce love for her teacher, with dire consequences when that affection is less than reciprocal, but never devolving into antigay hysteria. Even more incredible is that the film survived — more or less in whole — through the Nazi regime. And although its initial ending was edited to be more appealing to the Third Reich, the film was ultimately banned for its “decadence,” and several of the Jewish actors fled Germany. But by the time Hitler’s troops tried to destroy every copy of the film, it had already garnered international awards, and copies had been shipped far and wide, preserving this piece of lesbian cinematic history. —S.B.
167. Silkwood (1983): Mike Nichols’s film about labor activist Karen Silkwood is a dramatic take on a passionate woman’s life and the bizarre circumstances surrounding her death. That alone would make the film important, but Silkwood is even more laudable thanks to one of its supporting characters: Dolly Pelliker, Karen’s lesbian roommate, played by Cher. Nichols and writers Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen’s approach to Dolly’s sexuality is remarkably matter-of-fact for an early-’80s film — never ignorant of it, but also happy to make it just one facet of Dolly’s characterization. When her lover, Angela (Diana Scarwid), joins later in the film, we get to see a fleshed-out, genuine lesbian relationship. Silkwood holds up over 30 years later for good reason. The film garnered Cher a Golden Globe for the role as well as her first Oscar nomination. Streep also earned nominations for the Globe and Oscar. —K.O.
168. Show Me Love (1998): This girl-gets-girl coming-of-age film made a splash at Cannes and caused a stir with its original title, Fucking Åmål — referring to insular Swedish town where the main characters live — but when the dust settled over the title, it became critically acclaimed and internationally beloved for its heartfelt, often gritty, portrayal of young love. Elin (Alexandra Dahlström) is the popular girl while Agnes (Rebecka Liljeberg) is the outcast lesbian at school. They bond over their frustration with life in their tiny town and eventually fall in love. Elin struggles a bit with her feelings for Agnes, but she comes around, and there’s a happy ending for the young lovers in this debut film from esteemed director Lukas Moodysson (Together). It’s safe to say that Show Me Love’s unflinching portrayal of budding love paved the way for queer bildungsromans to come, including The Perks of Being a Wallflower and especially Blue Is the Warmest Color. —T.E.G.
169. The World According to Garp (1982): Based on the acclaimed novel by John Irving, The World According to Garp follows the unusual story of T.S. Garp (Robin Williams), a man conceived when his mother, a nurse played by Glenn Close, has sex with a solider on his deathbed in order to intentionally have a child without a living father. The film is notable for feminist themes and characters that run throughout. Garp grows to become a fiction writer who weds Jenny, the writer of a feminist manifesto and the founder of a home for troubled cis- and transgender women. One of these trans women, ex-football star Roberta Muldoon, becomes a friend and ally of Garp’s, and the moving portrayal of her character earned actor John Lithgow an Academy Award nomination. Queer in every sense, The World According to Garp remains a dramatic portrait of love, death, and desire decades after its release. —D.R
170. I Shot Andy Warhol (1996): Lili Taylor is a revelation as the brilliant but unbalanced Valerie Solanas, a lesbian and writer who penned the S.C.U.M. (Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto, but who gained notoriety for shooting Andy Warhol, the man — not so ironically — responsible for the phrase “15-minutes of fame.” Directed by Mary Harron (American Psycho) and produced by New Queer Cinema luminaries Christine Vachon and Tom Kalin (Swoon), the film not only captured the era of the heyday of Warhol’s factory but exemplified a certain kind of freedom and excitement in independent cinema at the time of its release. The excellent supporting cast includes Stephen Dorff as Candy Darling, Jared Harris as Warhol, Martha Plimpton, Michael Imperioli, and Jill Hennessy. —T.E.G.
171. Lianna (1983): An early film that explores love and desire among women. Indie golden boy from way back, John Sayles Sayles (8 Men Out, Matewan, Lone Star, Return of the Secaucus Seven) wrote and directed the deft story of Lianna (Linda Griffiths), a philandering college professor’s wife and a mom who takes a psychology course to save her from imminent suburban ennui but falls for her female professor instead. As the story goes, Lianna and professor Ruth (Jane Halleren) begin an affair that goes awry when Lianna comes across a little too strong out of the gate. Lianna goes on to leave her husband and to explore her sexual and emotional desire for other women. As early lesbian-themed movies go, the ending was not a particularly happy girl-gets-girl story, but Sayles presents the subject with such a gentle inquiry and so much pathos, it’s tough not to root for this little movie that could. —T.E.G.
172: Red Without Blue (2007): Directed by Benita Sills and Brooke Sebold, Red Without Blue tells the true story of Mark and Alex Farley, twins who grew up in a conservative area of Montana. The film, which won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival, recounts the childhood of the siblings as they navigated coming out, family, bullying, and pedophilia. It also trains a lens on their present-day search for identity, as Mark embarks on his first serious relationship with another man and Alex, who has adopted the name Claire, considers gender-reassignment surgery. By weaving together past and present, Red Without Blue creates a rich and complex portrait of an American family. —D.R.
173. Henry and June (1990): Based on Anaïs Nin’s diaries, this film explores the romantic triangle involving Nin, novelist Henry Miller, and his wife and muse, June, amid the bohemian life of 1930s Paris. Director Philip Kaufman wrote the screenplay with his wife, Rose; the resulting film is visually stunning but long and occasionally a bit of a slog. However, Maria de Medeiros as Nin and Uma Thurman as June are sexy and charismatic, and the movie is an important example of bisexual visibility, although it sometimes plays into stereotypes. —T.R.
174. The Fox (1967): By the late 1960s, mainstream filmmakers had gained the freedom to portray same-sex relationships, but attitudes hadn’t evolved enough for such portrayals to be positive. The Fox is a case in point: We won’t give details about the ending except to say that lesbian lovers Jill (Sandy Dennis) and Ellen (Anne Heywood) don’t live happily ever after. The women’s life on a chicken farm in rural Canada is disrupted by both a literal fox in the henhouse and a figurative one, the latter in the form of Keir Dullea as a sexy sailor home from the sea. Despite following the “no happy endings for lesbians” rule, the film has some admirable aspects; it’s atmospheric and haunting, and there’s plenty of heat in the love scenes between Dennis and Heywood as well as those between Heywood and Dullea. Based on a novella by D.H. Lawrence and directed by Mark Rydell, The Fox stands as a significant example of what had and hadn’t changed for LGBT portrayals in ’60s cinema. —T.R.
175. Claire of the Moon (1992): This early film by lesbian director Nicole Conn has endured, even if it hasn’t aged particularly well (especially the earnestness and mom jeans). A supposedly straight writer discovers the joys of sapphic sex at a Pacific Northwest retreat, and there may be no going back (to men). The cinematography is pretty gorgeous and the sex scenes were certainly daring for the early ’90s. —N.B.