Everyone knows about the Oscar-type classics dealing in LGBT-related topics, from Philadelphia to Milk to The Kids Are All Right and beyond, but it’s also important to check out the smaller, less-honored films—the curios, trifles, marvelous misfires, and fascinating visits to our planet. They can provide surprising amounts of enlightenment, or at least entertainment, and are definitely worth a look to realize how our society has viewed us through the years. Having seen them all, I can recommend the following 11 gem-ettes:
THE FOX (1967)
Lesbians Sandy Dennis and Anne Heywood commingle on a faraway farm in this atmospheric film based on D.H. Lawrence novella. It’s really fascinating for quite a while, but then Keir Dullea comes around and we learn that all the two dames needed all along was a man. Oy. Awkward stuff, but hey, that was the 1960s.
THE GAY DECEIVERS (1969)
In another perhaps unwelcome premise, two swingin’ guys dodge the draft by pretending to be gay. But while the resulting film is a bit stereotype filled, it’s kind of sweet and a reflection of its time, and Michael Greer is fun as their flaming gay landlord.
STRANGER BY THE LAKE (2014)
Dark desires and self-destructive tendencies pop up in this riveting French film about a guy who’s attracted to the wrong Mr. Right in a public sex place, and loving it. Not all great films have to show us to be blazing heroes.
BEAUTIFUL THING (1996)
Two neighboring working-class boys hit it off, as Mama Cass wails on the soundtrack. Make your own kind of music indeed. This is a such a lilting, lovely coming out film—one of the best ever.
BOYS IN THE BAND (1970)
William Friedkin directed this crackling work based on Mart Crowley’s play about a group of witty gays who get drunk and turn on each other. The self-loathing holds a mirror up to that time (the play debuted in 1969, before Stonewall), and can be deeply unflattering, but still, the message is that the closet is bad news.
GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS (2003)
Low budget but high in laughs, this kitschy comedy has Jack Plotnick as an aging actress, Clinton Leupp (Coco Peru) as his downtrodden assistant, and Jeffery Roberson (Varla Jean Merman) as a Hollywood hopeful they take in. It’s sort of Valley of the Dolls, but intentionally funny.
THE CHRISTINE JORGENSEN STORY (1970)
John Hansen plays Christine, who switched from George in 1950s Denmark, shocking the living daylights out of the world at the time. Based on Christine’s autobiography, the film is a jumble, but I actually find it to be sincere and quite enjoyable.
DINAH EAST (1970)
Jeremy Stockwell plays a 1950s actress who turns out to be trans. The resulting film is soapy, sexy, fun, and surprisingly ahead for its time.
THE SKELETON TWINS (2014)
Last year, former SNL stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig stretched as suicidal siblings reconnecting by necessity, and eventually finding their footing. Hader was fab as a gay in need of sisterly help.
Right after Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Oscar winning turn in Capote came this fine film, with Toby Jones as the same author, researching In Cold Blood while getting involved with the murderers. The movie captures Capote’s funny flourishes as well as his soulful yearnings, and Jones is sublimely flamboyant and touching.
The Wachowski siblings’ first film has Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly as lesbians hatching a plan to run off with two million bucks. A sexy and gripping modern day noir, it appealed to lesbians, gay men, and straights alike.