Movies: Best LGBT Characters of the Year

This list is dedicated to Jeremy Renner's "Agent Brandt" in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (fun movie) who I pretended was gay the whole time. Rather unexpectedly Renner/Brandt rewarded my mental acrobatics by quipping that Paula Patton's Agent had the easy job during their nuclear code nabbing mission in Dubai —  "Next time I get to seduce the rich guy."

BEST LGBT FILM CHARACTERS OF 2011

Potiche-jeremie10. LAURENT (Jérémie Renier) in Potiche
This comedy from out French auteur François Ozon didn't need a gay character to endear itself to LGBT audiences. Catherine Deneuve, the hilarious (subtitled) banter and retro 70s eye candy, already performed that trick. But one of Ozon's best jokes in this delightful confection is the latent über gayness of Deneuve's son Laurent; you see it coming long before he does.

08. EVERYONE in X-Men: First Class
Mutants are… different, feared, ridiculed. It's a metaphor, see? Or at least it was a few films ago. Magneto (Michael Fassbender) may have bedded Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in this reboot but it was his BFF Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) who he kept locking eyes with. 

09. LISBETH SALANDER (Rooney Mara) in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Everyone's favorite socially maladjusted bixsexual goth icon hacker is back albeit with a new face (Rooney Mara's exquisitely expressive one… even when Lisbeth is trying not to express anything). Lisbeth's number on the Kinsey Scale seems to have shifted ever slightly towards heterosexuality in this new version but she has considerably less angst about girl-on-girl action than about the men. Stick to the ladies, Lisbeth! [Reviewed]

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07. PETER GUILLAUME (Benedict Cumberbatch) in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Cumberbatch's nerve-wracked spy is not the only Gay in this ultra handsome espionage thriller but naming the others would give too much away. And the movie doesn't want to give anything away, with all the characters keeping their secrets close to the vest and the movie barely whispering them. Nevertheless it's gay enough that Kathy Burke gets a memorable cameo as the department fag hag "My lovely boys… 'The Inseparables'" she says, caressing photos of her former co-workers. 

Heartbeats-boys06. FRANCIS (Xavier Dolan) in Heartbeats aka Les Amours Imaginaires 
The beautiful and talented French-Canadian Xavier Dolan wrote, directed and starred in his first two features and film number three is already on the way. Get in early since he'll only be collecting more fans. Heartbeats follows two best friends Francis and Marie (Monia Chakri) who war over the affections of Nicolas (Niels Schneider) who may be into one of them or both or neither. Some people find the film too slight but its so superbly stylish and the bitchy catfights feel human and aggrieved as opposed to performed in reality-tv ready way. See it! [Currently available on Netflix Instant Watch]

05. THE KREWE OF YUGA (various) in Sons of Tennessee Williams
This documentary focuses on a gay rights struggle involving New Orleans costume balls which predated the Stonewall riots by nearly ten years. The documentary tries to do way too much considering its short running time, but I would gladly sit through entire documentaries about any of the original members of this Krewe. Their stories were fascinating, funny and heartbreaking. 

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04. HUBERT PAGE (Janet McTeer) in Albert Nobbs
Glenn Close's dream project about a woman masquerading as a male waiter in 19th century Ireland is totally stolen by her co-star. Janet McTeer also plays a woman living as a man, but one with a far clearer grasp of her sexual identity. McTeer works emotional wonders in her short screentime especially when she's expressing her feelings for her companion Cathleen, "my life". The love is entirely palpable. Expect McTeer to make a run for a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

03. RUSSELL & GLENN (Tom Cullen and Chris New) in Weekend
Perhaps I should've given this duo the top spot, but they have an advantage as there's two of them. Rising actors Tom Cullen and Chris New work miracles together as a shy lifeguard and outspoken artist in this perfectly modest but transcendent romance. If you haven't seen it yet, you're crazy. If you have, see it again. It's currently available on Netflix Instant Watch. [Read also: Director interview]

Pariah-adepero02. ALIKE (Adepero Oduye) in Pariah
This feature from lesbian filmmaker Dee Rees made a splash at Sundance last January but Focus Features has mysteriously held it back from release for an entire year. It's marvelous and if it had had a bigger release earlier you might see it winning more critics awards than just a few prizes at the Black Film Critics Circle. Alike, a shy lesbian in a rough Brooklyn neighborhood, is one of the most authentic feeling gay characters to come along in years and from an underrepresented group at that. Oduye proves herself a major new actress as she charts Alike's teen moodswings, sexual excitement and the nervous reaching for inner strength as she faces fickle friendships and homophobic parents. [Opens December 28th in Limited Release]

01. HAL (Christopher Plummer) in Beginners
Like Alike in Pariah, Hal is another under represented gay figure on movie screens. How many full characterizations of gay seniors do we ever get to see? Christopher Plummer's sweet buoyant work as a man who comes out of the closet very late in life elevates this already fantastic whimsical drama about a single artist (Ewan McGregor) struggling to understand his own relationship to romance while grieving the loss of his gay father. The best thing about the movie might well be the sympathy it has for all of its characters and their romantic compromises and quandaries. It looks unblinking at the sexuality of a senior citizen — how rare is that in the movies? — and rather than reverting to tired ageism or stopping short at tolerance, expresses admiration and love. "He never gave up." [Review & Director interview]

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What were your favorite gay characters and moments in cinema this year?

Comments

  1. Rick says

    The only two films listed here that I saw were Weekend and Beginners. At the risk of sounding overly negative, I have to say that neither was a good film, albeit for different reasons.

    Weekend was full of filthy language–F-bombs seemingly every 10 seconds, for no apparent purpose…..and just reminded me of all the empty one-night stands that all of us have had plenty of in our lives…..same kinds of “conversations” and the same kind of emotional distance…..I guess you could say it was realistic, but I didn’t need a movie to know what such experiences are like and I doubt any gay man does…..and the notion that they were “in love” by the end of the weekend came across as absurd…….

    Beginners was also a mix of the realistic with the totally unrealistic. Perfectly believable that a man who grew up in the early part of the twentieth century would have married and lived a closeted life–nothing unrealistic about that……but the idea that, in his 70’s, he would come out and be fallen in love with effortlessly by a guy 30-40 years younger than he was…..well, only in Hollywood……

    I HAVE seen some good gay films this year–Undertow, the Peruvian film, was quite good, as was The Kids are All Right, both making their points without being preachy, and with very interesting, realistic character portrayals……so there is some good stuff out there…..

  2. princely54 says

    I can’t say enough how much I liked ‘Weekend’! It was such a revelation to see realistically portrayed gay characters who were just people. I am ecstatic it’s on Netflix streaming as I can’t wait to show it to my friends and dive in again.

  3. melvin says

    I haven’t seen many of these films, but I emphatically agree on Janet McTeer. Brilliant. I just wanted more of her. I would urge folks to watch the film a second time and reconsider Close’s performance as well.

    As I told a friend, Weekend couldn’t have been any better if it included George Takei cartwheeling naked through the streets of Nottingham.

  4. jason says

    I think 2011 is notable for its almost complete absence of gay men in the movies. None of the big commercial movies had anything worth mentioning. As far as Hollywood is concerned, we are persona non grata as far as inclusion in its movies.

  5. stranded says

    I’m going to try and hit two birds -of them is you, Jason- with one stone as there is an omission on this list.

    If the X Men are in this list, then how come ALBUS DUMBLEDORE isn’t here? He was in the biggest movie of the year, after all, not to mention that he’s one of the most recognizable and loved characters of modern literature and films.

    Powerful, wise, loving and a fatherly figure for Harry, I’m pretty sure that when Rowling disclosed his orientation 4 years ago, it changed a lot of people’s perception for the better.

  6. says

    “Filthy language”? Oh Rick — on top of everything else you’re a tiresome prude.

    “Beginners” was totally realistic.

    I can see why you hate it so much. IT ACTUALLY HAPPEEND YOU NIT!!!!

    “Undertow” is more your speed — a love story between a ghost and a live person. Both suitably “Butch” of course.
    A Major Snore!

  7. JimmyD says

    Oh DAVID. Name calling. Because someone had a different opinion than you. I guess for some, it didn’t get better. I wonder what snotty comment and name you’ll sling my way.

  8. John says

    How many bitchy comments and annoying responses must David Ehrenstein post on this site before you ban him from Towleroad, Andy? He is one of the biggest trolls on the Web.

  9. Ted B. (Charging Rhino) says

    PETER GUILLAUME (Benedict Cumberbatch) isn’t gay in the LeCarre books, but I can see the plot-logic here…plus the opportunity for some damn-fine eye-candy.

  10. Christopher Walker says

    I appreciate the notice about several films I haven’t seen yet. I did like “Beginners” but have to insist that the picture was totally stolen by the little dog.

  11. Phil says

    I keep hearing terrible, terrible things about Weekend from people I respect… But as it’s on Netflix Instant now, I suppose I’ll just have to see if the people I know and like are right or if complete strangers on the internet have a higher opinion…

  12. jason says

    Out of the hundreds of wide-release movies, there was probably only one or two that showed a male-male relationship. Even then, there was really not much there. It would appear that Hollywood is becoming increasingly homophobic.

    At the end of the day, we need to recognize that Hollywood is not gay-friendly and that perhaps it’s time for us in the GLBT community to bring it down as an institution.

  13. uffda says

    Oh if we could all be as hip as Ehrenstein who’s fashion lineup of opinions are as predictable as gravity. Indeed, a major snot with extended pinky and crooked knee. Bleh! Oh and ain’t nuthin the matter with masculine. Try it if you can. “Weekend” sucked.

  14. says

    “I keep hearing terrible, terrible things about Weekend from people I respect…”

    I cannot imagine what they would be. It’s a very honest and touching love story. Sexy too.

    Maybe that was what they found so terrible.

    “Oh if we could all be as hip as Ehrenstein”

    From your keypad to God’s tin ear.

    “Extended pinky and crooked knee”

    ROTFALMAO!

  15. Jay says

    Beginners is a well-meaning and sweet film with wonderful performances by Plummer and Ewan McGregor, the woman who plays Plummer’s late wife, and the dog. But it is ruined by the really bad acting and unintelligible diction of the French actress who plays the girlfriend. One can never figure out why she is sad since you can hear barely half her dialogue.

  16. Ian says

    Rick, at the risk of sounding negative, both of your reviews are quite stupid. “Filthy language”? What are you, a nun? And ‘Beginners’ is SUPPOSED to be somewhat unrealistic, THERE’S A TALKING DOG IN IT. And it’s not the director’s job to conform to what you personally feel is realism.
    To anyone reading this, WEEKEND and BEGINNERS are both very good, very beautiful movies, and you won’t see two better gay-themed films from 2011. Ignore Rick’s shallow, ignorant critiques.

  17. Nat says

    “And ‘Beginners’ is SUPPOSED to be somewhat unrealistic, THERE’S A TALKING DOG IN IT. And it’s not the director’s job to conform to what you personally feel is realism.”

    In general defence of Rick’s point:
    the only effective movie is one that is at some level realistic – that is to say, authentic. Just because a film has fantastical elements doesn’t mean it may abrogate the basic obligation of being emotionally authentic. And if it’s not, then the movie doesn’t work.

    And while a director should not be obligated to ‘conform’ as you put it, to audience expectations, she/he has to produce something that resonates, to at least one person.

  18. says

    “Realism is one of the 57 Varieties of Decoration” — Raymond Durgnat

    There’s no guanartee for “resonance.” “Weekend” and “Beginners” worked perfectly for me, Ian and I suspect a number of others. But no one can force Rick to like it.

    And no one can force me to like that preening fraud “The Artist” either.

  19. Dback says

    I thought “Weekend” was good, but overrated–nothing “Before Sunrise/Sunset” didn’t already do, and way too many drugs. (I don’t object to people enjoying their recreation, but I wondered how much it affected their supposed “love” for one another.)

    Right on choosing Hal from “Beginners”–one of the loveliest performances (and films) of the year.

    I would, however, also like to make the point that Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) in “J. Edgar” is a great character not dissimilar to Jake Gyllenhall’s Jack Twist–you see him looking at Edgar (Leonardo DiCaprio) with such complete and undisguised adoration, and you slowly see the light in his eyes and all of his hopes for a romantic life together dying over the years. Their scene in the hotel where Tolson finally unleashes on Hoover, and Hoover’s devastated, whispered confession after Tolson leaves, was what made “J. Edgar” work for me despite its remoteness and restraint.

    Also, where was Woody Harrelson’s shamelessly Puckish gay sports writer from “Friends With Benefits,” or the bisexual Adam (David Streisow) at the triangle’s vertex in “3.” I also loved the military cadets in “Private Romeo,” the politicians in “Four More Years,” the transgendered German teenager Lukas in “Romeos,” and the romantically cold-cocked Tommy in “The One” (which idiotically jettisons the character at the end, but the actor Ian Novick is sensational).

  20. says

    J Edgar is worth seeing if for nothing else than Leo’s very fine performance and literate screenwriting by Dustin Lance Black. There is so much drivel on the screens now that support for a worthwhile film is important to film makers who take small risks to making larger ones so that we can see a fuller picture of our lives on the screen.

  21. says

    “J. Edgar” is worth seeing for a number of reasons. It doesn’t really work because Hoover biopic is far too ambitious for anyone — much less Clint and Lance — to take on successfully. But the fact that they were tryign to do it at all deserves applause. Leo and Armie were both teriffic. I wasn’t, however, reminded of “Brokeback.” Those characters were marginals and outsiders. Edgar and Clyde are the ultimate insiders.

    There have been complaints that the film didn’t get into sex. But I feel it didn’t need to because A) Edgar was terrified of his own sexuality and B) It’s rather unexpectedly touching as a love story. Clyde loves Edgar, but Edgar doesn’t know how to love.

    I reccomend it to everyone looking for a seriosu film about gay history — with the caveat that it doesn’t completely work.What DOES work is Act Three when Clyde re-examines the flashbacks Edgar provided in Acts I and II and shows how many lies he was telling. Quite remarkable cinematically.

  22. J.R Hollywood says

    UFFDA: you come across as a bitter, jaded, resentful mess. You’re whole schpeel of masculinity is hilarious considering you come across like a catty, old, hormonal “str8 acting” dude who only has himself convinced that he’s O so masculine while everyone else looks at how delusional you always are. I’ve disagreed with David H in the past, but you my friend are the definition of angry at the world gay, and angry at gays who are comfortable in their own skin. Fall off a bridge dear.

  23. uffda says

    J.R.@ oh no, another holiday confrontation,

    Yet, you are quite right and I apologise, in some cases abasively. All I can say is that when you run with wolves you can begin to act like them.
    So many of the comments here are snarky and jaded. As someone recently wrote, “I need to get off this web site”. Yet I respect it and immensely enjoy learning about those gay people who have shown heroism and distinction in many walks of life. I will be more careful although the superciliousness of Ehrenstein and the pugnacity of Little Kiwi should, I think, be met with comment.

  24. SteveDenver says

    Oops, This list missed Matt Smith (Dr. Who) as Christopher Isherwood in pre-Nazi Berlin: “CHRISTOPHER AND HIS KIND.” Gorgeous film, plenty of naked guys romping around, splendid film experience!

  25. DB says

    What about Harry Potter? Dumbledore is dead by the last movie but still comes into play.

    Although the mutants in X Men are definitely gay allegories (their powers manifest at puberty, they face discrimination from their parents and ‘normal’ people, etc.), the characters in the movie actually are either heterosexual or at least closeted. X Men 2, a much better movie, had the most explicit manifestations of this. I loved the coming out scene with Iceman coming out to his parents. His mom even asked, ‘Have you tried not being a mutant?’

  26. DB says

    ‘Weekend’ was excellent and ‘Beginners’ was good. Both used some unrealistic stereotypes but made up for it with actual character development, good acting, and writing. ‘Weekend’ actually showed gay men who seemed fairly normal and realistic (despite one character being somewhat closeted) and did not defer to 1970’s unrealistic gay stereotypes (e.g. such as the flamboyant, homphobic, queenie, ridiculous stereotype of Jack on Will and Grace or, based on the one episode I sat through, the gay kid on Glee).

  27. DB says

    Rick, ‘Beginners’ was not unrealistic. It was based very closely on a true story. The father of the writer and creator did come out as an old man in his 70’s after his wife died and did experience the vibrant and happy gay life portrayed in the movie in the brief period before dying of cancer.

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