The Brandos are back: a list honoring gay film performances that deserved an Oscar but never got it. Not just iconic, these characterizations validate gay experience and humanity through imagination, compassion and talent.
Named for Marlon Brando's extraordinary gay characterization in the 1967 Reflections in a Golden Eye (two years before Stonewall and without Oscar recognition), the Brandos salute other revolutionary queer performances of artistic genius and cultural courage.
Elmer Back, Eisenstein in Guanajuato.
If you missed Elmer Back's portrayal of the great gay filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein in Eisenstein in Guanajuato, Peter Greenaway's inventive bio-pic, you missed the best film performance of 2016. Gay filmgoers need to get out of the mainstream media hype bubble that always reduces gays to victims. This is the rare movie tribute to a gay genius and radical cultural pioneer. Beck and Greenaway do Eisenstein justice.
Hugo Weaving, The Dressmaker (2016)
Doffing his villain's black suit in The Matrix, Weaving plays cross-dressing Aussie barrister Sgt. Farrat. His fashion sense, inspired by Kate Winslet's vengeful couturier, in turn teaches her courage and he sashays with pride.
Judith Anderson, Rebecca (1940)
Hollywood's most sinister lesbian is still it's most romantic. Anderson's Mrs. Danvers turns devotion and secret longing into deep, emotional poetry. She's scary in proportion to her passionate intensity.
Gerrit Graham, Home Movies (1980)
As the man-obsessed scoutmaster and whole-worlder, Graham prophetically satirized gay sanctimony with knowing and flair. He is Brian DePalma's greatest comic actor (also proven in Phantom of the Paradise) and here looks great in khaki shorts.
Jude Law, Rage (2009)
Trans or just super stylish? Law portrays Minx, a model whose vanity is challenged when she witnesses a Fashion Week tragedy. Shade-throwing Minx puts the fascist in fashionista for Sally Potter's critique of the fashion industry.
Frances Fisher, Jolene (2008)
This reliable character actress got her best role as Cindy, the middle-aged nurse in a juvenile facility who falls in love with the orphaned title character (Jessica Chastain). In the lesbian episode of this life's journey film, Fisher's love-at-last tenderness and trust are the emotional anchor.
Robert DeNiro, Stardust (2007)
Pirate Captain Shakespeare is DeNiro's only gay characterization so far, a subtle advance that went undetected by most viewers of this children's fantasy but the role is distinguished by DeNiro's rarely recognized warmth. Your funny uncle, indeed.
Terence Stamp, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
In the trio of drag karaoke artists traveling on a lavender bus through Australia's outback is a transitioned woman, Bernadette. Her resemblance to a middle-aged Vanessa Redgrave is a multileveled joke aimed at Stamp's own stud status from the Swinging Sixties as part of the British invasion of stars who were sexy and talented, always in touch with the times.
Larry B. Scott, Lamar Latrell, Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
Before playing gay and playing nerd became self-congratulatory, Scott took on the role of a black gay college freshman who joins other nerds fighting 'phobia. The alliterative name Lamar Latrell was a joke waiting to happen which makes Scott was a trailblazer.
His lips, full and ravening, were semaphore of desire and will. The role of Bill, a supposedly straight man, was one of the way Arquette electrified Nineties indie movies (including Pulp Fiction) with fully-committed portrayals of gay and trans characters, turning his own issues into art. His romp with Carlton Wilborn was a landmark moment for queer cinema.
Ving Rhames, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007)
Rhames flipped the supermacho black stereotype in Adam Sandler's groundbreaking classic farce about sexual stereotypes. Bending over in the prison shower scene, sings "I'm Every Woman" and twerks perfectly. Not just courageous, a game-changer.
Grayson Hall, Night of the Iguana (1964)
Best known for the TV soap Dark Shadows, Hall brought energetic suppressed eroticism to Tennessee Williams' drama of conflicted passions. The Academy didn't forget Hall's dykey Miss Judith Fellowes (she got a nomination) but if you did, check out her startling performance.