Monday, December 21, 2015

Important LGBT flicks on NETFLIX

There are countless LGBT movies available on Netflix, and they encompass all sorts of topics and thematic ground, from married lesbians to gay cowboys to bi-sexual femme fatales. We happen to love them all; the writing is great and the feeling real. We’ve scoured the streaming selections on Netflix to bring you our picks for the 10 best LGBT films on Netflix. The movies here are full of iconic directors (Ang Lee, Peter Jackson, Todd Haynes, The Wachowskis, Mike Nichols) and, of course, stars that love to take risks (Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kate Winslet, Julianne Moore). These aren't just films from the U.S. – some of the very best LGBT films hail from other countries, where the openness – or closetness – of the culture ends up making for a fascinating depiction of the LGBT community in their neck of the woods. Here are the 10 best LGBT Movies Streaming on Netflix.

Brokeback Mountain
Ang Lee's immaculate depiction of masculinity in the Western genre is a classic that broke barriers in Hollywood. Even though the film lost the Best Picture prize to Crash, it has become the better movie between the two and an all-time LGBT classic. The story of Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist's forbidden romance in the outskirts of the Wyoming fields turned more than a few heads when it came out. It tackles the most manly, American genre in cinema and decides to ignite it with homosexuality – something that would almost be thought of as blasphemous just a decade ago — showing how far we've come. The sex scene involving the two cowboys is raw, intimate and riveting enough to have sparked major condemning fireworks in red flag states. Based on Annie Proulx's 1997 short story, the film features what might quite possibly be Heath Ledger's greatest performance as Ennis, a man of few words who can convey the deepest of emotions with just the raising of an eyebrow, but cannot bear to show his love for Jack in the outside world. He longs for him, but lives in a time and place where showing his true feelings might get him killed. Jack Twist is played by Jake Gyllenhaal in a career best performance that is as free-wheeling as it is tragic.
Blue is the Warmest Color
This one needs no introduction as it has taken countless prizes including the Palme d’Or. Its French title is La Vie D'Adèle (Adele's life), which couldn't be more apt because this is very much a movie about a girl growing up and finding her true identity. Adèle — played by the seductive Adèle Exarchopoulos — becomes attracted to blue-haired vixen Léa (Léa Seydoux). Adèle is on an experimentation phase and falls in love hard. It's her first real romance and the high is contagious. The two lovers embark on a sexual journey, which includes a close to 10 minute graphic sex scene, but also an experience that will change them both as they grow up and find their identities in life. It is a simple and very well-told story of love and its decay. Adèle sees the color blue everywhere, and director Abdellatif Kechiche makes sure we do as well by inserting it into the most beautiful of frames. I think it could have been a little shorter than the three hours it runs, but pinpointing what could have been cut is very difficult, as each scene, especially the mundane ones, allow one to feel as if present alongside the characters. Exarchopoulos’ sublimely engrossing acting is astounding. She certainly has an illustrious career ahead of her. Moreover, she was a great choice for Kechiche’s exploration of female sensuality (the shower scene among many is a visual masterpiece). While the sex scenes seemed a little over the top, one must remember they are unique in cinema’s depiction of sex (be it same-sex or not).
The Kids Are All Right
Julianne Moore and Annette Benning play a married couple that go through the same issues any other heterosexual married couple would go through. Benning with her devious yet honest smile is a tour de force as Nic, a woman who only wants the best for her children, even when she can sometimes come out looking harsh and too honest. Julianne Moore, playing Jules, is her wife. Jules feels isolated and resorts to an affair with their kids’ sperm donor Paul, magnificently played by Mark Ruffalo. The scenes between Moore and Ruffalo are tremendous, sexy, touching, and extremely honest. Much credit must be given to Writer/Director Lisa Cholodenko, who infuses realism and indie spirit to the film. Cholodenko — 36 at the time — hit a career peak with the film. While her first two features (High Art and Laurel Canyon) had potential, The Kids Are Alright shows the after effects. Born and raised in California’s San Fernando Valley, Cholodenko makes high art out of family manners. Her personal life — she also had a kid through sperm donation with her long-time partner Wendy Melvoin — made this a personal and rewarding independent effort.
Heavenly Creatures
This understated gem by Peter Jackson brought the director's career to its highest peak. Best friends Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet (Kate Winslet) create an intense fantasy life together — so intense that their parents start to worry about them and suspect that it's more than just fantasy. The girls vow to never let anyone crash the world they've created and go to extremes to protect it. Jackson's disturbing story is first and foremost a love story of the highest order, encompassing a whirlwind of emotions in a fantasy story that feels all too raw and real. It doesn't depict the love between these two girls in an outright obvious way, but the small touches and gestures make the viewer realize that this is more than just an intense friendship. It’s as much a horror movie as it is a fantasy or love story: a murder occurs, but the blindness of being in love in a world that cannot acknowledge that makes the girls shun the outside world. The film wouldn't be the masterpiece it is without Winslet and Lynskey's chemistry, which at times can veer towards the intensely scary. It is a perfectly cast film that has aged like fine wine over time.
Christopher Plummer won a much deserved first Oscar at the tender age of 82 for his role as Hal Fields, an elderly man who finds out he has terminal cancer and decides to tell his son Oliver (Ewan McGregor) that he's actually always been gay and has a lover. Oliver, a graphic artist, tells us the story through his viewpoint, from his childhood and the problematic relationship of his parents all the way to the outing of his dad and his subsequent death. Plummer is charming but devastating as a man who finally opens up to the world and feels a freedom that he quite clearly never had throughout his adult life. Director Mike Mills' film is a personal project as he went through the same story that the film depicts. This is very much a love letter to his dad who learned to live and enjoy life just when it was too late. It's a touching and poignant story that deals with real-life topics and can't help but hit us on the most personal of levels. The fact that stories like this do happen in everyday life only enhances the melancholic sadness of the surroundings.
Velvet Goldmine
Todd Haynes' film, Velvet Goldmine, is a masterful tribute/love letter to the glam/glitter rock movement of the 1970s. All the audience really knows of Velvet Goldmine's idols is what any fan would know. We experience the story through interviews and musical performances, and that astoundingly provides us with enough information. It's the aesthetic of "man's life is his image"– that superficial beauty expressed through art reveals so much more than at first glance. Glam rock superstar, Brian Slade (based on David Bowie), is played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers to perfection with his thin, effeminate looks and swaggering. Haynes has great fun with the notion that there was a time in popular culture history that androgyny and bisexuality were seen as a cool fad. Velvet Goldmine's main story is Brian Slade's rise to and fall from fame. Slade's cold and calculating ways accumulate in the hoax of his own assassination — the ultimate symbol for the death of glam rock. His most sympathetic side is revealed during his affair and subsequent break-up with punk rocker Curt Wild. Ewan McGregor plays Curt Wild by feverishly emulating Iggy Pop — although the history of Wild having electroshock therapy to cure his homosexual leanings is straight from the life of rock icon Lou Reed. Both Rhys Meyers and McGregor do their own singing for their characters. Upon seeing Wild's performance, Slade is obviously envious of him and attracted to him. Inspired, Slade takes his music to the next level.  Velvet Goldmine depicts the theme of the permanence of art. Todd Haynes shows that this music — and this movie — is much more than disposable pop culture, but rather akin to the works of Oscar Wilde and the movie Citizen Kane, both which he references throughout, and that art is kept alive through the appreciation of it by the audience. 
While this film is best known for being "that lesbian gangster movie", it is far better than that tag might suggest; it is exciting, stylish, and occasionally horrifying. Caesar is a money launderer for the Chicago mob and Violet is his girlfriend who has been with him for the last five years. Caesar has no idea that the arrival of female painter/plumber (and ex con) Corky to work in the neighbouring apartment will have such a dramatic effect on his life. Violet, however, notices Corky immediately and soon sets about seducing her by asking for help retrieving an earring that she has "accidentally" dropped down the sink. Even when Caesar returns home and sees her looking somewhat dishevelled he regains his calm when he sees that the other person present is a woman and thus not a threat to him.  Violet and Corky hatch a plan to steal Caesar’s money, trying to figure out how they can take the money and make Caesar think it was stolen by Jonnie. Of course the scheme doesn't go according to plan, when instead of running, Caesar decides to confront Jonnie about the theft. Unlike a lot of thrillers this contains no exciting stunts or exotic locations. In fact, it is set almost entirely in Caesar's apartment and the one next door. Rather than limit the film, though, it provides a sense of claustrophobia so that we can see why Violet wants out. The acting is excellent throughout and the direction is stylish without being overly so. Sexy, violent, and brutal, Bound is directed by The Wachowski Brothers, just a few years before they'd set the world on fire with The Matrix.
 The Birdcage
A gay couple (Robin Williams, Nathan Lane) have to play it straight when their son (Dan Futterman) wants to marry a girl (Calista Flockheart) who has ultra-right-wing parents (Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest). The Birdcage is a virtual word by word remake of a very funny 1978 French movie called La Cage Aux Folles. The French film was hilarious and (in its time) daring. Some of its views are dated, but not offensive. The Birdcage follows the original script VERY closely and adds its fair share of funny lines. Of course as a studio film from the 1990s it does throw many gay stereotypes at its audience: there's the lisping, queeny maid (Hank Azaria), the EXTREMELY effeminate man (Nathan Lane), and his mincing, swishy partner (Robin Williams). The film encourages you to laugh at their mannerisms again and again. It can sometimes be a little too much, but given that it's a product of the 1990s, it is understandably a little behind today's times. That doesn't stop it from being an LGBT classic that many from the community have adored for a few decades. Williams is a bit too swishy but, basically, underplays nicely. Lane is the reason to watch this playing a WAY over-the-top and very loud prima donna. However, Hackman and Wiest are a scream as the couple, and Christine Baranski shows up and brightens up the movie. The film is very colorful and there's plenty of buff guys and gals wearing next to nothing to get your attention. It's kitsch, but kitsch done right with quite a few laugh-out-loud moments that do stand the test of time.
Stranger by the Lake
The Certain Regard directing award in Cannes went to this movie, which is usually a sign of something innovative. I failed to do my research before going to the theatre for this one, so let me warn you. There is a lot of very graphic man-on-man sex, but as long as it is not a total surprise for you, the sex scenes actually add to a certain raw suspense. Just do not watch it with any squeamish homophobes. The plot is very simple: Franck, a young man looking for love, finds lust on a summer beach in Michel, a man who — Franck witnesses — has just drowned his lover. It would not be completely true to say that fear was the turn-on, and yet, Franck (played by Pierre Deladonchamps, who won the Cesar for most promising actor) continues to see Michel. At 97 minutes, it is a short movie that nevertheless feels like it takes its time to unfold, and I, for one, went from being slightly bored to being on the edge of my seat scared as hell. The last several minutes I must have been holding my breath too, because I distinctly remember breathing out as the credits started rolling. If you are looking for an uncomplicated thriller, and are not afraid of gay pornography, see it.
Longtime Companion
Longtime Companion was perhaps one of the very first movies to put a face, heart, and soul to the epidemic of HIV/AIDS at a time when movie makers, as well as society as a whole, ran away as fast as they could from not only the disease itself, but also those that had it. For that alone it should be congratulated and celebrated. Essentially, Longtime Companion is the story of how life takes a sudden change for a group of gay friends from the very onset of the whole HIV/AIDS crisis in 1981. Back then The New York Times carried an article that mentioned an outbreak of a "rare cancer" in the gay community, often termed "gay cancer", which was tragedy in itself, as it shielded the actual method of transmission of the illness that was spreading with alarming speed.
The movie divides itself in chapters, focusing on the appearance of the infection and how it crept its way into social consciousness as a fearsome, four letter word we now acknowledge as AIDS. We're introduced to a variety of characters, all realistic in nature, and confront their issues that are commonplace. Friendships are formed, love is exchanged, and all the while bonds are tested as this "thing", this invisible character, becomes almost omnipresent in every sense of the word. A very grim, yet real scene early in the film is one that can't be denied: at a hospital visit, one character (played by Campbell Scott) immediately washes his hands in restrained disgust after greeting a sick friend (Dermot Mulroney) because of the fear of contagion. Counterpointed is a much later, extremely emotional scene involving Bruce Davidson as he says goodbye to his lover and allows him to "let go". It's two sides of the coin, but Norman René creates a haunting experience that remains indelible to anyone who has been in those situations. It's one of the finest films about gay men ever done, and it's a must for anyone getting into queer cinema.

7 Great Docs of 2015

Just as fiction has been expanding the narrative barriers and experimentations this decade, so has non-Fiction – maybe even more so. With the advancement of social media comes a generation of people with the need to capture each and every key milestone of their lives on their phone or tablet or device. As such, the wealth of first-hand material we will be getting in the years to come will no doubt facilitate and advance the way documentaries can tell a story and shape their narratives. Everyone at the moment is working on their own little documentary of their lives, many without even realizing it, and the wealth of media that one person from this generation can amass in a lifetime will be very much part of the trajectory that fiction and non-fiction films will get into in the next 30-40 years. This is why a documentary like "Amy" or a movie like "Tangerine" – shot on an iphone – might just represent the most ground-breaking film events of the year. They will no doubt inspire many to follow in their footsteps. The following seven 2015 docs are one of many examples of the extraordinary year in non-fiction cinema.

The Look of Silence
“The Look of Silence” is Joshua Oppenheimer’s sequel to “The Act of Killing,” and he once again addresses the Indonesian genocide of the mid-1960s that killed millions. If the first film dealt with the perpetrators this one is about the victims, as a man who lost his brother in the killings tries to track down the perpetrators through research and in-your-face interviews. The truth isn’t easy and a final confrontation had me almost looking away, but the interviews are the highlights as they bring back a past that most of the perpetrators are in denial about. If there is a more important, contemplative, and meditative film about human nature this year, I sadly haven’t seen it. This isn’t an easy watch, but it’s an essential one. It represents one of the reasons I hope we all go to the movies — to face hard truths and cold facts that might otherwise be forgotten. Oppenheimer is quickly becoming a world-class filmmaker with these important films and the potential significance they bring to society is almost beyond words. The Indonesian genocide that took place in the 60's is such a layered, sprawlingly controversial part of history  that these two films will no doubt be seen as historical documents for the years to come.


“Amy” is virtually the first of its kind, a tragic examination of the late singer’s life, composed entirely of footage shot by Amy and her friends and directed and assembled with immeasurable passion by Asif Kapadia. The late 27-year-old singer/songwriter was an unmatched talent but tormented by the most torturous inner demons imaginable. This compulsively watchable film exemplifies the next evolution in documentary, one in which each key milestone of a life is recorded with phone or camcorder by the subject herself, and then this wealth of first-hand material is shaped by a talented director into a touching portrait. Kapadia doesn’t show talking heads as they’re being interviewed; instead he lets us listen to the interviewee while Amy’s personal footage plays in counterpoint onscreen. Don’t be surprised if we get more of these kind of documentaries in the years to come, as we seem to be part of a generation that wants everything recorded and instantly mementoed. In fact, two other films on this list have used the same approach. "Amy" is quite simply the best of the three and a serious Oscar contender for Best Documentary.

Heart of a Dog
Heart of a Dog is Laurie Anderson's ode to life, which to tell you the truth results in a much more absorbed and pondered contemplation than most film-makers would care to deliver. Anderson is the definiton of an artist, always pushing boundaries and always looking for different ways of expression. Here she uses all kinds of modern media to create something wholly original: a meditation on life and death that is meant to relax and open up your thoughts. The project started out as memories and thoughts about her rat terrier Lola Bell and her mother, both of which passed away rather recently. Then her husband, the rock musician Lou Reed, died as well- which seemed to have pushed Anderson further down the spiritual path of healing, which then explains why the topic of death seems a very natural one for, not only her, but the film she decides to make. This hard-to-describe, almost unexplainable film also needed the soothing sound of Anderson's very soft singsong voice to narrate this tremendous achievement. Her narration is so important to the surroundings that the film would quite simply just not work if she hadn't lent her voice to it. 
In Jackson Heights
Frederick Wiseman is a national treasure, a non-fiction filmmaker that deserves to be considered among the greatest documentary filmmakers of all-time. "Jackson Heights"  -his 43rd film- explores the fascinating story of Jackson Heights located in Queens, New York City - one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse communities in the United States and the world. Given the current climate and the backlash happening in this country over the Syrian refugees, a film such as this one is a much needed wake up call. In Jackson Heights there are immigrants from every country in South America, Mexico, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and China.  The film mentions the stunning fact that more than 167 languages are spoken in this crowdedly diverse sector of New York. Some are illegal, some aren't, but all try to integrate into american society by any which way possible. It's through this ethnic diversity that we as viewers watch in amazement at a fascinating stronghold of American culture. The issues raised are important and relevant : assimilation, integration, immigration and cultural and religious differences figure prominently into the picture that Wiseman tries to paint. It's not only a fascinating film, but also one of his very best.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Alex Gibney's tough inspection of Scientology might be the most effective horror movie of the year.  Documenting the inner-working of the Church of Scientology, "Going Clear" is the definitive look at the history and rise of an organization from a cult to new religious movement. It documents its belief system, the role of celebrities who are part of it, and its long- standing allegations of psychological abuse & exploitation that occur within the church. Gibney uses archive footages & interviews from former Scientologists who describe their very own horrific experiences when they were part of the religion to uncover the disturbing secrets of this new religion that still remains shrouded in mystery. What struck me the most though is what the movie says about the absurdity & dangers of blind faith by illustrating easily people can be manipulated as a solution to all their problems.  There will be those that will mention the film as being a very one-sided affair, but the data and evidence Gibny gives the viewers is more than enough to put a clear and concise argument against Scientology at the table. It will be interesting to see if Gibney's impeccable direction and cleverly told expose will lead to a Best Documentary nomination come Oscar night, protesters be damned.
Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck
Director Brett Morgen, who gave us "The Kid Stays in the Picture" back in 2002 gave us this fascinating dissection of Kurt Cobain. If a theme kept popping up in non-fiction films about deceased artists this year it was the word "Intimate", which perfectly explains Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck hook. It's a vivid and detailed account of the Nirvana lead singer's life, rise, demise, and untimely death.  Morgen compiles most of his film with details from Kurt's notebooks, drawings, audio recordings and self-made video footage. It's a fascinating -warts and all- depiction of a complicated, misunderstood musical legend that went haywire when fame came knocking at his door. The part of the movie that most people will be talking about -understandably so- is when we see home video footage of Cobain and Courtney Love, most of the time, strung out on heroin, nicotine, and alcohol. This is all going on even while Love is pregnant with their child, Frances. This is where the intimacy really takes on a new life; 
At one point Kurt proclaims he'd make himself miserable to make her happy and even "abort Christ for her". It's a chilling moment that only gets enhanced when Morgen interviews Courtney Love and gets her side of the story. No matter who you believe, it's impossible to leave "Montage of Heck" unshaken by what you've witnessed. 
Listen to Me, Marlon
Just like the above mentioned docs about Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain, the subject of "Listen to Me, Marlon" was an enigmatic cultural figure that seemed to defy description.  
You'll get numerous accounts about how beautiful, compassionate, difficult, weird, crazy, tragic, bizarre, provocative, secret, shy, he was. These are all contradictory ways to describe him in his own right, but maybe they were all true and THAT is what might make him the most fascinating Hollywood figure to come along, maybe ever. Brando also had the knack for personally audio recording a lot of himself, a sort of self-therapy that becomes god-sent and effectively used in"Listen to Me, Marlon". Brando as he spoke into a tape recorder for many years, whether it was preparing for a role (as we hear for Apocalypse Now and Last Tango in Paris), self-hypnosis (he had to meditate a lot one can see), and just stuff to leave behind for his kids. Riley found close to 198 hours of Brando mumblings on recording. He's on record here of saying things that -as mentioned before- might contradict one another, but they are such fascinating, thought provoking ruminations that you just listen in awe at a legend having a go with himself. 

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