"For Your Consideration"
I've been a film critic for about 12 years, but only bothered to join a critics' group a few months ago -- the newly minted Boston Online Film Critics' Association, or BOFCA. It's been an education.
For example, I previously only attended critics' screenings for the films to which I was given the review assignment. Since joining BOFCA I've had to triple my forays to the Cineplex for the screenings, and even that has meant I miss a lot of films... probably too many. Thankfully, some studios send out screeners of the films they'd like to promote for the various categories, and this helps fill in the gaps.
Of course, there are consequences to this, as when the individual BOFCA ballots were due last Friday, even as screeners were fetching up in the mail. It's fun, of course, to take a day or three off work and, with the clock running down, watch six films back to back, but it can also be sort of overwhelming. (Where was last week's column? It's right here. I just could not get to it last week!)
Then there's the sheer end-of-year major-motion-picture fatigue that sets in when gorgeously realized projects from heavyweight directors start popping up one after the next: Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln." Ang Li with "Life of Pi." And -- this film instantly sucked the oxygen out of the cinema and ignited it -- Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," which is sheer perfection.
I get the marketing aspect of waiting until the last few weeks of the year to release the films that studios hope will bring home the gold. I also think it's a little cynical and unnecessary: Critics, industry professionals, and Academy voters who lionize films from the silent era are not gonna forget about a good movie from 2012 just because it came out last February.
One of the really hard things to do is to pare and whittle and, finally, choose. The BOFCA ballots asked for three nominations in each category (except Best Picture, which required ten; I could only, in good conscience nominate eight), because our official nominations are done as a group and we needed a way to tabulate that would help us avoid ties, etc. But even so, the #1 pick in each category carried the most weight on each individual ballot, so one could not be haphazard about how one listed one's choices. Settling on a definite favorite is a tough business, because sometimes you absolutely love two performers, or three movies, or six directors, and cannot really say which you love the most. Sometimes you're trying to decide between apples and oranges. It can all seem more than a little subjective, because it's all entirely subjective.
Finally, I managed to fill out and submit my ballot. Our official nominations as a group are available for viewing online, and have already occasioned some controversy: One film blogger dissed us as sex-starved "beefalos" who were obviously "dweebs" because we didn't nominate his favorite film. The comments section was even less friendly, with some punters writing in that we are "unnecessary" as a group, if not downright "blatant screener grabbers" interested only in reaping the official "for your consideration" screeners that the studios send out.
For the record, while we did get some screeners -- and they helped, because anything helps when you're chronically over-scheduled and can't see everything -- we didn't actually get that many. Some studios, or at least their publicists, sent us nothing at all, which is fine, because A. it's not as though we're getting gold-plated Deluxe DVDs here, and B. part of the deal is that you watch the screener and then destroy it to avoid the possibility of video piracy. In other words -- and any working critic would know this -- the screeners are a professional resource, not swag. (Furthermore, I have to wonder why a "blatant screener grabber" would have spent so many hours throughout the course of the year hauling himself around town to erratically scheduled screenings when he could simply have nested at home, awaiting some mythical Big Boxed Set from the studio gods.)
Maybe the most heart-rending thing is how many fine films one sees in the course of the year that are not even eligible for Oscar nominations due to a lack of wide theatrical release. This is especially true of gay cinema: I saw so much I loved that played in GLBT film festivals, but never got the kind of release that would have made some fine films eligible for Oscar consideration.
With that in mind, let me offer a very brief list of GLBT films that I think should have been up for awards consideration -- a "Gay Oscars," if you like.
I could mull this over this category for hours... but I don’t need to. "Gayby" stands above the rest of the year’s crop of gay comedies as a bracing balance of procreative urges and contemporary sexual appetite. An attractive gay man (Matthew Wilkas) agrees to play sperm donor for his straight female BFF (Jenn Harris), leading to scenes like the one in which both are preparing for their separate hot dates, but agree to meet no later than 11 in order to get it on because she’s ovulating. If Woody Allen had made a gay comedy it might have been something like this film by writer-director Jonathan Lisecki.
It might be worth a momentary pause in the narrative to give honorable mention here to "Men to Kiss," a spotty but, in places, spot-on comedy set in Berlin in which a reticent gay man (Frank Christian Marx) learns to loosen up, while his flamboyant life partner (Udo Lutz) faces off with a determined female rival plotting to steal his man. Silly, but marvelously inventive and colorful, this movie is pure candy-colored, but jagged-edged, fun.
I adored "Three Veils." The more I meditated on "Elliot Loves," the better I liked it. But in the end, Jon Garcia’s film "The Falls" takes my big gay vote in this category, even though the movie’s sound quality is consistently below par and, in some cases, is downright awful. But the story and performances make up for the shortcomings of this spirited no-budget production: Two young Mormon missionaries (Nick Ferrucci and Ben Farmer) meet in the field and fall in love; they begin to question their church, realizing that the strict faith tradition they have known all their lives has censored a great deal of the real world, including their own true sexual natures. This film is everything "Latter Days" wanted to be... or at least everything I wanted "Latter Days" to be.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
"Sleepless Knights," by co-writers / co-directors Stefan Butzmühlen and Cristina Diz, burrowed into my subconscious on first viewing, and it’s remained there ever since. It’s a strange film in many ways, and a film that doesn’t condescend by handing the viewer each and every piece of the story it wants to tell. As a result, it commands your full attention and, even as you watch, it creates a portrait of love between two men -- one (Jaime Pedruelo) a cop and lifelong resident of a small Spanish village, the other (Raùl Godoy) a native son who moved to the big city and now is back home for a spell -- who aren’t sure what to do about their feelings for one another. The village, and its elder citizens, are as much a part of this sweet and rich little gem as the two lovers at the center of the story; in a larger sense, this is a study of manhood and what it means across generations.
There were so, so many worthwhile documentaries out this year, from the eye-opening "(A)Sexual" to the chilling pray-away-the-gay opus "This is What Love in Action Looks Like" to the enraging documents of cruel injustice, murder, and anti-gay mayhem detailed in "Unfit: Ward vs. Ward" and "Call Me Kuchu."
There was also the heartbreaking, question-raising doc "Gone: The Disappearance of Aeryn Gillern," which traces the last days and hours of a gay American living in Vienna, who vanished in a puff of falsified police reports and other evidence of cover-up, leaving his mother -- a retired police officer -- to investigate his fate on her own.
Let me not forget to mention "We Were Here," a doc about the AIDS Crisis but... hold on, now... an exceptionally well done documentary about a subject that has been documentaried to death.
But even among this superlative slate of documentaries, "Question One," which looks at both sides of the marriage debate in the months leading up to the 2009 vote in Maine that scrapped a marriage equality law there, is a standout. The anti-gay side is full of homophobes and bigots (many of them blithely denying their bigotry), but it also has fascinating people of true integrity such as Marc Mutty, a leader of the successful effort to stymie marriage equality who is also a relatable, sympathetic, and thoughtful man. Voters in Maine recently reversed themselves and approved a ballot initiative that beings marriage equality to that state, but this documentary is crucial to understanding the path that led to last month’s victory there.
BEST DVD RELEASE
There are at least two movies that hit the GLBT film festival circuit last year that I’d hoped would see wider release than they managed to get this year. The two in question are Andrew Haigh’s "Weekend" and Alan Brown’s "Private Romeo." Thanks to the democratizing effect of DVDs they can enjoy the kind of wide release that matters most of all: They can play right in your living room. Thank the gods for that, because these movies both deserve... no, these movies both need to be seen by, well, just about everyone.
The former is a deep, affecting study of two young men (Tom Cullen and Chris New) in London who share a scant few days before one of them leaves to pursue studies abroad; the latter is an absolutely brilliant retelling of "Romeo and Juliet" set at an all-male military school. "Private Romeo" is a juicy last swipe at DADT, a stirring love story, and a ravishing new take on Shakespeare all in one indelible film.
There’s no way I can choose between "Weekend" and "Private Romeo," and because this is my column and I can pretty well do as I please, I am naming them both for this category. It’s not a tie so much as an acknowledgement that they’re both too good to ignore. (How good? Get this: With what may be unprecedented promptness, Criterion has already put out an edition of "Weekend." Now that’s impressive. But, hey, Criterion: When will you do the same for "Private Romeo?")
Whatever mainstream movies Oscar graces next year, I submit this short list as 2012’s unmissable essentials for GLBT cinema -- For Your Consideration.