Sunday, May 19, 2024

ReelKev’s Ultimate Guide to Film Festival Favorites and Queer Cinematic Classics

As Gay Pride Month winds down, I am reflecting on my 12 years of blogging and how I take delight in introducing people to movies, theatre, TV and web series that perhaps they may not have discovered on their own.

As I’ve been watching gay movies all month for Frameline and Outfest and preparing for Cinema Diverse, I thought this would be a great time to make the ultimate gay movie list.

So here’s my list that will grow and change as I catch some other older movies I hadn’t seen before and I will save newer movies for a list in the future.

While this could literally be hundreds of films, I decided to create some of my own guidelines. So there will be very few big Hollywood blockbusters with straight actors playing our parts (i.e. “Philadelphia”) or even mainstream movies with gay actors (“The Bird Cage”).  Those movies can be a list on their own but mainstream movies will make a quick appearance on the list as one can’t ignore Best Picture Oscar Winner “Moonlight” or John Water’s “Hairspray.”

The list will also include iconic gay actors and filmmakers who are voices for our community as well as some movies that may not have had critical acclaim but made an impact (“Making Love”). This impact may not have been just for our community, but impacted me on some level.

Also missing from the list are those classic movies we’ve embraced and every queen knows about: “The Women,” “All About Eve,” “Showgirls,” “Valley of the Dolls” and “Auntie Mame” to name a few.

With that in mind, here’s an alphabetical list of movies for you to try to watch in your lifetime:

“The Advocate Celebrates 50 Years: A Long Road to Freedom” is technically a TV movie as it was Emmy nominated but I caught it at a film festival and I was amazed how much history can be put into a two hour movie. Director Billy Clift’s clever eye mixed in style with substance and managed to interview about every living iconic person, making it a must see to know and appreciate how far we’ve come – and how far we’ve get to go.

“All About Evil” is a campy horror comedy about snuff movies from the very funny Joshua Grannell (aka drag icon Peaches Christ) who also happens to be a protege of John Waters. Grannell enlists Waters’ leading lady Mink Stole, who gives her usual over-the-top best. The movie also features a terrific Cassandra Peterson who is Elvira Mistress of the Dark out of drag.

“All About My Mother” is here representing the films of Pedro Almadovar. A festival just for him is well worth your time but this movie touched me in several different ways and it is one of his lesser, over-the-top movies that often are shocking and progressive.

“Another Gay Movie” is the “American Pie” of the gay world and has little substance but is sure fun to watch with a group of friends.  Slumber party, anyone?

“Baby Jane?” is a drag homage to “Whatever Happen to Baby Jane” and manages to pay tribute to the Bette Davis/Joan Crawford classic while poking fun at it. Matthew Martin deserves an Oscar for his Bette Davis portrayal. Clift and crew made magic again with a follow-up “Hush Up Sweet Charlotte.”

“Bear City” trilogy is not to be missed especially if you like your men big and furry. Part 2 is the best of the bunch with a very sweet wedding with a PTown backdrop. But all through are fun and funny and represent the community very well.

“Boys in the Band” is a classic, landmark movie that might have been ignored and mocked when first released. Yet its director William Friedkin went on win a Best Director Oscar for his next movie. Further, this now is certainly a classic as it’s a trailblazer with all gay characters and has recently been revived to Tony winning success on Broadway with a stellar cast.

“Boys in the Sand” is not the porn version of “Band” but it definitely is porn. This low budget film is the “Deep Throat” of gay movies, being one that was talked about and all abuzz when it came out early 1970s. An interesting note is the profits from this movie help fund the musical “A Chorus Line.”

“Big Eden” is perhaps the sweetest love stories about a New Yorker who goes back home to deal with family issues and doesn’t realize that all the meals he’s been eating from the old ladies in town are actually from a shy local man who crushes on him.

“The Big Gay Musical” title is reason enough to be on this list as I love to be gay and love anything musical. It’s truly a campy fun movie and a list of gay films needs to include something by Casper Andreas, who also offers behind  “Going Down in La La Land,” “Violet Tendencies” and the poorly titled “Slutty Summer.”

“Bridegroom” is a documentary and it’s so powerful that years later, I still think of it and my heart hurts. It’s a call to order for everyone in a relationship without legal commitments, showing how someone can come in and take over and essential erase you from someone’s life because you’re not “family.”

“But I’m a Cheerleader” proves that any topic can be made funny in this story of conversion therapy. Great cast highlighted by Rupaul as a straight man…or is he?

“The Celluloid Closet” is a must for this list as it explores more in-depth LGBT film history then this cursory list ever will. It not only gives greater detail on the history of the depiction of LGBT characters in history, but it’s directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, Oscar winning filmmakers whose films speak and represent the voices of our community.

“Christopher and His Kind” is a narrative period piece that gives us the gay history lesson of Christopher Isherwood, the iconic gay writer who was responsible for, among other things, the source material of “Cabaret.”

“The Circle” is a beautiful blend of documentary with narrative scenes, re-enacted to tell the story of some young professionals in Zurich 1960s who had to hide their love and homosexually in fear of persecution.

“Closet Monster” shows how a young man tries to overcome some of the issues that no one should have to go through: abandonment and witnesses a hate crime.

“Coffee Date” is a fun mistaken identity love story that helps make the list because Wilson Cruz definitely needs to be part of any gay film list and Stewart Wade is the man behind many fun movies and web series – and mostly with coffee in their titles!

“C.R.A.Z.Y.” is an early work from Jean-Marc Valle, who has recently found a home with HBO popular mini-series. But this feature showcases a love of a father and his five sons but also for a gay love’s son for his father, fearing his dad’s feelings will change when he comes out.

“Daddy” is more layered than you’d think so be prepared to be surprised as the story may go in a direction you weren’t expecting. A solid performance by Gerald McCullouch’s performance in his directorial debut.

“Eat with Me” is a delicious mix of keeping your sexuality a secret from your mom, tossed in with a kooky supportive neighbor and sexy love interest. Add in a visit from George Takei and this movie is the perfect recipe for success.

“Eating Out” is one of those mindless comedies that’s as nutritious as dessert. Which doesn’t sound like a good review, but who doesn’t love dessert. This story of a man pretending to be gay to get close to a woman spawned several sequels.

“Eisenstein in Guanajuato” has great photography, art direction and is a wonderful portrait of Sergei Eistenstein, whose obsessive behavior effects every aspect of his life including the movie he seems never to finish. It blends in some real photos and scenes in a film that’s art direction is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

“Elliot Loves” blends topics of coming out and exploring sex and love and does so well with realness, charm and an excellent use of multi-media. Writer/director Terracino made such an impressive debut that it makes you longing for more.

“The Fabulous Alan Carr” is on this list representing director Jeffrey Schwarz who has an impressive resume offerings great profiles on many gay icons. He’s directed the best LGBT documentaries of all time: “Tab Hunter Confidential,” “I Am Divine” and “Vito.” I picked “Carr” to represent his work as Alan Carr seems to be  the least famous subject of a Schwarz’ documentary. Yet Carr is still a staple in the gay entertainment field, being the man behind “La Cage aux Folles” on Broadway and “Grease” at the movies.

“Folsom Forever” caught me off-guard as I was marathoning a bunch of movies preparing for a film festival and this title came across and I wondered what else can I learn about Folsom Street Fair. Director Mike Skiff proved me wrong as he finds so much history that most of us didn’t know about the fundraising street fair.

“For They Know Not What They Do” is a thought-provoking documentary on religious and families with gay children. One would think it would be easy to paint the parents as monsters, but the film tries to make us understand why churchgoers often resort to outrageous solutions to “cure” their children. It is very telling and fairly explores both sides of people’s beliefs and sometimes to heartbreaking conclusions.

“The Garden Left Behind” is an amazing and complicated story of a transwoman whose gets complicated as she moves forward to have her transition surgery due to the fact that she’s undocumented. Mix that in with her fight for trans rights and equality and you will have movie leaving you emotionally drained by the movie’s explosive ending.

“Gone” is such an amazing documentary that I thought the story would get even more attention if it was a movie from the Coen Brothers starring Frances MacDormand. I went as far as writing to MacDomand’s agent a few years ago and even carried around a DVD when I was visiting a friend who lived in her neighborhood (in case I saw her on the street). But this is a riveting tale of an upstate New York police officer who goes to Austria to find out what happened to her missing son who was Mr. Gay Austria. It’s shocking to see how the case wasn’t taken seriously because he’s a gay – but equally shocking that the mother isn’t offered a lot of information because she’s a woman! There are many movies called “Gone” so be sure to get the right one.

“Growing Up Coy” is a documentary of the little girl who made national news as she was born a boy but never identified as one. This actually was at the onset of the transgender bathroom controversy.

“Gun Hill Road” isn’t the greatest movie with a tale we’ve heard: ex-con returns home to see a world that has gone on without him. But this movie enters the must-see category thanks to the amazing performance of Harmony Santana, who plays the lead character’s transitioning daughter.

“Hairspray” is a must for any LGBT movie list. Not only is it from John Waters, who needs to be represented here, but it’s his first crossover to mainstream movie that launched the movie career of Ricki Lake and gave a meaty role to Divine and then became a Broadway Tony winning musical and came full circle as a musical movie based upon the Broadway show. Funny and irreverent, it still maintains Waters wicked sense of humor.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is as mainstream as you can get with a film that doesn’t have a Hollywood actor or director attached to it. But it’s a wonderful story that has kept faithful to the stage production, thanks to writer/director/star John Cameron Mitchell of the live version brought it to the screen himself, with most of the same cast in tow.

“Hellbent” is your go-to Halloween movie. It follows the standard formula with a bit of humor but features a killer that is so sexy that one might want to run to him instead of away.

“Holding the Man” is based upon the memoirs of the beautiful love between Tom and John, which takes them from high school secret sweethearts to married men during the early “gay cancer” (pre-AIDS term) days.

“Hollywood to Dollywood” is as charming as the twin brothers who made it. They travel to Dolly Parton’s amusement park in the hopes to see her and give them a script they wrote for her. Along the Baptist Bible Belt, they met several other gay men who share their stories of coming out.

“I Always Said Yes: The Many Loves of Wakefield Poole” is one if the best documentaries I have ever seen – hard not to be with such a captivating subject. We don’t know Poole by name really but after this, you will know and thank him. Not only did he make the first popular gay porn film (“The Boys in the Sand” as noted above), but he was an accomplished dancer and choreographer in his early career. If that wasn’t enough, he also at some point was a chef for Calvin Klein. What a life! What a man! What a movie. Further, excited to say, it just got started streaming on the HERE media, so I can now share this movie with the world.

“I Want Your Love” is from Travis Mathews, who definitely needs representation here. This film has many new, at the time actors, who make their interactions and graphic sex scenes seem real and almost taboo for us watching.

“Jeffrey” decides to stop having sex because he’s afraid of AIDS. That is until super sexy HIV-positive man shows interest. Based upon a play and written by Paul Rudnick (a voice for us) and directed by Tony winning director Christopher Ashley, the movie is unique and features a performance from Patrick Stewart that should have been Oscar nominated.

“Kilometer Zero” (aka “Km.0”) is one of the best foreign language films I’ve ever seen. It blends together several vignettes of people (gay and straight) meeting at Spain’s popular Plaza del Sol, to comedic consequences due to some mistaken identities.

“Kiss Me Guido” hold a warm place in my heart as it’s one of the earlier LGBT movies that I saw in a theatre that has very straight crossover appeal as well. It’s about quite the odd couple story of a straight New York guy that moves from the Bronx to the City and doesn’t realize his roommate’s gay.

“Ladder Days” is a great choice for a gay Thanksgiving viewing party. You need to stick with the whole movie to find the connection. But it’s a very endearing love story between a Mormon and a party boy and features an Oscar-caliber song and a sweet performance from Jacqueline Bisset.

“La Mission” showcases the battles a young gay Latin man who must face his machismo father with the fact that he’s gay. Benjamin Bratt and his brother bring this tale to the screen which highlights an amazing performance Jeremy Ray Valdez as Bratt’s son.

“Lilting” offers an insight into coping with the loss of a loved one and having to face your partner’s family. An element of a language barrier gives the movie a refreshing edge and intrigue.

“Liz in September” is a sexy story of a seemingly straight woman stranded at a reunion of lesbians. Might she protest to much? It’s a sexy romp from start to finish.

“Limited Partnership” will rip your heart out as a long term couple is forced to separate (deportation) due to the fact they’re not married. The couple faces daily struggles as they try again and again in this engrossing documentary.

“Love! Valour! Compassion!” is on this list representing one of the greatest playwrights in the gay community: Terence McNally. Quite a hit on Broadway but less seen as a movie, most of the original stage actors are intact but alas, Tony winner Nathan Lane wasn’t cast in the film.

“Make the Yuletide Gay” is the perfect gay Christmas movie and it’s filled with double entendres, awful holiday sweaters and a love story that we should all have on our Christmas list.

“Making Love” isn’t a great movie. But it took a chance. It’s the story of a young doctor who realizes he’s probably gay. Every actor in 1982’s Hollywood turned this down as a career killer. Yet it got made with an amiable TV cast.

“Man in an Orange Suit” was actually a mini-series in the UK but played in theatres in the USA. It’s one of the most layered love stories about two different tales from different eras that are weaved together seamlessly.

“Mansfield 66/67” is as well crafted as it is informative. Re-enactments and testimonials make the story of sex symbol Jayne Mansfield one not to miss. We also learn that even with big boobs and squeaky voice, underneath Mansfield is a very intelligent woman.

“Margarita with a Straw” is an amazing story of a young disabled Indian woman who moves to New York to study and learns more about herself then the lessons she finds in the classroom.

“My Straight Son” is a wonderful story of a young man who has troubling accepting his father’s sexuality, but trying to give it a chance but without a few bumps and conflicts along the way. The father/son scenes and issues seem real and deal like real people and not movie characters.

“Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom” is one of the first movies from Logo, based upon its original series. Not only does it put a spotlight on gay marriage, but it stars one of our most popular LGBT actors (Darryl Stephens) and is directed by Patrik-Ian Polk, who has been a great voice representing gay people of color.

“Out in the Dark” brings together two gay Palestine men who are faced with the challenges most couples have but add in the laws and religious zealots who forbid their relationship and you have a hard racing melodrama.

“Out in the Night” is a shocking and unfortunately true documentary about four black lesbians that are assaulted and though they fight back, they are blamed for the crime. Wow – this is real life and things like this still happen.

“Pride” is a perfect movie to watch in pride month and it’s emotional and heartfelt about a group of London activists who end up helping a coal miner’s union, to their very own opposition due to the group being gay.

“Proxy” is a great vingettey ensemble pieces that takes its time, in a good way to connect the dots. It also is the first, and perhaps only, movie to have HIV characters yet “HIV” or “AIDS” is never spoken.

“Pushing Dead” is a dark comedy about HIV. It’s a wonderful character study with a terrific ensemble cast including Danny Glover and also showcases some of San Francisco’s less traveled roads.

“Saturday Church” is a coming of age story of a young man struggling with his sexual identity as he finds comfort and comradery in the big city. You might notice some of the starts from “Pose” among the cast.

“Search Engines” is definitely worth catching on Thanksgiving.  As a family gathers for the big day, they all lose their internet connection and are forced to talk with each other. Yikes, the horror! Beautiful to see real life mother/daughter Connie Stevens and Joely Fisher.

“Shelter” is a sports-themed movie that goes beyond the jock strap and deals with fears of coming out and acceptance, all-the-while one of our leads is hiding his feelings of liking your best friend’s brother.

“Snails in the Rain” has a lot of appeal, especially in the super sexy lead actor. But it’s also a good story about an Israeli man who receives anonymous love letters from another man. Is it straight or playing straight as homosexuality is forbidden. Watch and learn.

“Something Like Summer” shows how hard unrequited love is and how it grows over the years, making for a tense movie that, every now and then, breaks into song.

“Suicide Kale” is a dark comedy and yet there’s the underlining issue of a suicide as a group of lesbian friends find a suicide note during a group brunch. Who wrote it and are they serious?

“Taxi Zum Klo” is one of the first movies I saw that had not only male nudity and sex – but it was graphic, vivid and frank and left an impression on me for years.

“That’s Not Us” boasts one of the best ensemble casts that seem so comfortable with each other, it seems real and we seem to be along for their weekend adventure where secrets are revealed as we head towards a surprise at the end.

“These People” is beautifully crafted and looks as good as the beautiful people whose stories it embodies. But the lifestyles of the famous has its consequences, which we also see the seedy and dark side of opulence.

“Tom at the Farm” represents the movies of Xavier Dolan, one of the most creative and talented queer artists at work. Whether he’s the director, writer, actor, editor or costume designer, he excels. The movie is dark and somber and highlights ALL of his talents. The barely 30 year old’s filmography is impressive, comprehensive and award winning and this is a perfect example of all he can do.

“Tom of Finland” puts a real name and face behind the famed artist who has done so much erotica that it’s nice to meet the person who started a following and a phenomenon with his sexy portraits.

“Trick” is a popular movie for good reason: it’s funny and sweet. A couple of guys hook-up gets derailed as they can’t find a place to do it. In their search, the audience meets one of the most memorable supporting casts that include Tori Spelling, Lori Bagley and Steven Hayes and Miss Coco Puru. The movie doesn’t just sizzle…it burns!

“Tru Love” is a beautiful love story about a lesbian who develops feelings for her friend’s mother. There are more surprises to the story beyond the mother who shares in these feelings.

“The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin” is an intimate portrait of the famed writer and opens up and includes insight on his struggles with his family as a young gay man and his relationship with his husband.

“A Very Natural Thing” can be found on many streaming devices and it’s quite a curio as while it seems like a sweet romance, it’s practically porn. And since it was made in the 1970s, it has that grungy “Boogie Nights” feel.

“Viva” really needed to be sought out. A heartbreaking and groundbreaking tale of a young man who is suppressed by his strict Spanish father and finds his only outlet in the drag community. So surprised this did play at theatres longer.

“Waiting in the Wings: The Musical” was one of the biggest surprises that I discovered at Cinema Diverse one year. Taking Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” and turning it into a gay movie about two guys who end up getting the job meant for the other is so much fun. Throw in original songs, hunky men and legends Shirley Jones & Lee Meriwether and you have a movie (and sequel and future New York musical) that will make your heart dance!

“What’s Cooking” is the type of movie I love: several little stories that tie into one. This takes place over Thanksgiving and we get to see what’s cooking in a black, Jewish, Asian and Hispanic kitchen. Threw in a few lesbians and you’ve got quite the cinematic buffet.

“Zero Patience” is a musical about AIDS. Although it received mixed reviews, I found it to be inventive and groundbreaking and tells a version of how the virus started.

This list will change and grow as I discovered other, older movies that I may not have seen during their release. But for movies that go beyond July 2019, that’s a list in the future. So stay tuned and keep updated at

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Kevin M. Thomas

Kevin M. Thomas, or @ReelKev, is an arts blogger and entertainment reporter. In addition to his own website, and ReelKev YouTube channel, Kevin used to be the LGBT arts writer for and contributes to as well as a semi-regular on San Francisco's cable TV show, "10 Percent."

Kevin M. Thomas has 157 posts and counting. See all posts by Kevin M. Thomas

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