San Francisco's Frameline Film Festival may be gone - but many of the titles live on at Los Angeles' Outfest . Making a list of the best films of Outfest may seem like déjà vu as many of the top films I was able to see prior to the festival also played at Frameline.
Still there are many worthy additions to the list of the best films of Outfest, which play through July 20, 2014.
One movie that could easily make the best narrative AND documentary lists is “The Circle” and it deserves to be in a special category on its own. The movie is a modern documentary of a couple from Switzerland and their telling of a club, or secret society, for gays. While the club’s newsletter had a large following that reached way beyond Zurich, the movie tells of the struggles and being branded “homosexual” in a non-accepting environment, complete with police raids and abuse. While compelling on its own, the movie then goes a step further. Since those early days were not documented on film, the flashback scenes are retold with actors who are at the top of their game (and not like a poor re-enactment on a TV police reality show). The movie excels as both a narrative feature and a documentary and definitely should be on the top of any "must see" list.
Here are some other standouts.
- 1. LILTING. Tops in San Francisco, this film deserves all the kudos it’s received and is a welcome addition to the Outfest line-up. Director Hong Khaou puts together a great film dealing with coming out and aging in the Asian community. It relies a lot on interpersonal communication to get its points across in a story of a man trying to bond with his late partner’s mother. "Lilting" is poignant, bittersweet and completing entertaining.
- 2. APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR. The life of bisexual Shirin is anything but appropriate as she tries to find a way to tell her Iranian parents about her sexuality while trying to overcome a break-up. It’s a witty and charming movie and shows great promise from its director/writer/star Desiree Akhavan who obviously has a long career ahead.
- 3. 52 TUESDAYS. An Australian movie also from Frameline but one I didn’t get to see in advance, “52” is an amazing film not just for its story of a woman transforming into a man who asks her daughter to live with her father during this change. It’s also amazing in the way it was filmed: every Tuesday over a year’s time – which happens to be the one day of the week the mother would meet with her daughter. It’s likely a gamble to get a cast to commit to work one day a week for a year but director Sophie Hyde pulls it off to great and memorable effect.
- 4 CUPCAKES. Likely the feel good movie of any festival, “Cupcakes” could be dismissed as “Strictly Ballroom” meets “American Idol.” But this wonderful, fun Israeli comedy from Eytan Fox (who usually offers heavy dramas) is a breath of fresh air as it tells the story of a group of friends who decide they have as much talent as anyone else so why not enter a worldwide singing competition. The movie is so vibrant and colorful, it’s the perfect dessert to a festival of meatier, cause-driven dramas.
- 5. LAST WEEKEND. A quiet, building drama with Patricia Clarkson in a restrained performance as a dominating mother who seems not to realize that her adult children no longer visit their Northern California summer house primarily due to her interference in their lives. Clarkson takes a character that may be well meaning, but easy not to like and gives her depth and compassion. “Weekend” deserves kudos for making the gay characters not part of the plot and background window dressing – they are part of a terrific ensemble that includes great character actors Judith Light and Mary Kay Place. The film is also beautifully photographed by Paula Huidobro, who makes the scenery a definite star of the show.
- 6. TOM AT THE FARM. This very unsettling French Canadian film from director/writer Xavier Dolan has already received many awards from European film festivals. Dolan also stars as Tom, a young gay man who decides to visit his late partner’s country home to pay his respects and be present at his funeral. Tom opens the door to verbal and physical abuse from his late partner’s brother that is often too disturbing to watch, but still captivating. Instead of taking the Hollywood way out of having Tom break free of the shackles of abuse, the movie goes deeper into Tom’s psyche in which sometimes being around his lover’s brother reminds him of his late partner. Thought provoking and hard to turn away, “Tom” is a definite must see especially in the hands of the young and very accomplished Dolan.
- 7. BAD HAIR. From Venezula, “Bad Hair” shows you can take the most simple idea and turn it into a movie worth watching. “Bad Hair” isn’t quite gay – but it involves a mother with the notion that she thinks her young son might be gay simply because he is obsessed with straightening his hair. Whether he is gay or not is irrelevant. The movie has many wonderful comedic scenes including when the grandmother irons out the boy's hair only to have him wet it to return to normal when his mother returns, This is well balanced with dramatic realism such as the scenes of the mother’s endless efforts to keep a job.
- 8. FUTURO BEACH. This Brazilian-German drama bridges the gap between both worlds when two men develop a strong and long lasting love that blooms out of tragedy. Much like life, which teeters between the two, our characters enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle on the beaches of Brazil, but the honeymoon doesn’t last when they forge a life together in Germany, especially in an area so far from paradise.
- 9. LYLE. Perhaps it's 60 minute running time makes this more a short film. But the content included in this modern, lesbian-ish "Rosemary's Baby" will make the hairs on your arms stand-up. It's reminiscent of an old fashioned horror film, leaving a lot to the imagination to add to the scares. Gaby Hoffman, who plays a mother fighting for her sanity (or is she not crazy?) while trying to protect her child, gives a chilling performance.
- 1. I ALWAYS SAID YES: THE MANY LIVES OF WAKEFIELD POOLE. Whether you know of Poole’s crossover gay porn classic “The Boys in the Sand” (the “Deep Throat” of gay porn) or not, doesn’t matter. This movie provides a very in-depth profile on the man who goes from dancer to choreographer to pornographer to chef. Sometimes people seem to have the Midas touch and Poole definitely does as we see how his life is interconnected with Tony winning choreographer Michael Bennett (“A Chorus Line”) to politician and gay activist Harvey Milk to cooking for designer Calvin Klein.
- 2. OUT IN THE NIGHT. Tried in the media as a “gang of lesbian killers,” this movie shows how easy it is for something to get blown out of proportion when seven friends decide to out themselves to an admiring man only to have him throw gay slurs at them, causing a fight between the man, the women and some onlookers. But the media paints the man as the victim and the women are sentenced to jail.
- 3. LIMITED PARTNERSHIP. A beautiful love story that wouldn’t have even made the news if it wasn’t about a same sex couple. All Tony and Richard wanted was to be together. But they had a 40 year battle with the government to acknowledge their union, causing a lot of pain and sometimes deportation as Tony isn’t a U.S. citizen. The story alone is compelling enough to make you watch. But the fact that the director followed the couple for years, documenting so much history and showing us many sides to the subject, make this a standout film.
- 4. BACK ON BOARD: GREG LOUGANIS. One would think we know everything there is to know about the Olympic Gold Medalist. But we’d be wrong. “Back” shows the man behind the medal and what he’s been up to since the Olympics, coming out of the closet and getting HIV. Much of that was headline news. But while the news media has found new stories, Louganis still has a tale worth hearing. Enlightening and inspiring, “Back on Board” is a definite surprise and an amazing portrait of an admirable man.
- 5. TO BE TAKEI. George Takei shows that he’s more than the Asian character of “Star Trek,” as the movie follows him around the country sharing his story – which also includes a childhood in a Japanese internment camp. While seeing Takei’s taking on a lead role in the show “Allegiance” proves that the term “and justice for all” has never had a more powerful meaning to those, like Takei, who fight for equality.
- 6. LADY VALOR: THE KRISTIN BECK STORY. A favorite from Frameline is one to seek out as it shows the strength someone can have as they face prejudice and verbal abuse, while staying true to themselves. Kristin was born a man who became a successful Navy Seal but her bigger battles are closer to home as she strives for acceptance.
- 7. ALEC MAPA: BABY DADDY. This is just a filmed comedy act – but it is delightful, funny and HILARIOUS!! It mixes in a few scenes of Mapa's home life and being a new father to make it more a documentary. His stand-up routine involving fatherhood is funnier than I could even have imagined. You go, Baby Daddy!
- 8. THE DOG. This is the true story about the man who inspired the Al Pacino film, “Dog Day Afternoon.” It shows that not every documentary needs to be a deep tale of gay advocacy as “The Dog” simply robbed a bank to pay for a sex change for his male partner. The movie is fun as it shows how many people try to turn their 15 minutes of fame into a lifetime of success.
- 9. CLUB KING. I loved learning more about how last year’s LA promoter of the year takes such care in his night clubs and works on every detail to make his events successful – including personally styling and dressing his models and dancers. It could have been higher on the list but it left me wanting more. No I didn’t need additional hot go go boys, but I would have loved more details about the business of promoting a club as well as the costs and profits that go with it. But the personal scenes of Mario Diaz family life bring the film a lot of heart.
There is plenty of other movies to see as well. Get show times and tickets at www.outfest.org