It wouldn’t be fair to provide a Top Ten list of films from this year’s Frameline 36, the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival. After all, I haven’t seen all 217 films (but at the moment, I have screened 57…not bad).
Perhaps the opening night film “Vito” or the closing “Cloudburst” would be among my favorites had I seen them.
So not to knock any movies I haven’t watched I thought I can at least make a list of Ten Films Worth Seeking Out.
1. “Love or Whatever.” If you seek “a nerdy therapist loses boyfriend to woman story and then meets a sexy hottie from Grindr whose qualities are more than skin deep” film, this is it! Tyler Poelle is fun as the nerd and Joel Rush and David Wilson Page fight over who is the film’s sexiest man. But Jennifer Elise Cox as Tyler’s acid tongued, hipster, coffee making lesbian sister steals the show with her barbed tongue and deadpan delivery.. Sexy, funny and more depth than your average love story, this is a great mainstream film that even your het friends will like.
2. “Facing Mirrors.” A film the polar opposite of “Whatever,” technically this Iranian movie isn’t gay at all. There are no scenes of same sex love or temptation. Rather, it tells the heart-wrenching story of Adineh, a pre-op transsexual who tries desperately to flee her country in order to make to F2M transition instead of marrying her cousin at her father’s insistence. Co-writer and director Negar Azarbayjani has crafted a truly emotion tale that comes to life thanks to the bravura performance of Shayesteh Irani as Adineh. She is well supported by Qazal Shakeri, a more traditional Iranian woman who doesn’t approve her choices but understands her and aids and befriends her out of decency.
3. “Elliot Loves.” A great first feature film from director/writer Terracino, who proves in one picture that he is destined for greatness. The film’s juxtaposition of comedy & drama, present & past and live action & animation make this endearing story of a man who freely loves – but has trouble getting it in return can easily break your heart, right before it picks up the pieces and puts it back together. Fabio Costaprado is certainly a find as the older Elliot but Robin de Jesus as his best friend brings comic relief whenever needed.
4. “Hollywood to Dollywood.” What can easily be dismissed as two sexy twins from the South trying to come up with a scheme to present the script they wrote to Dolly Parton really tells a more poignant story. Yes the twins love Dolly and wrote a screenplay with her in mind and yes the movie features 15 Dolly songs and has won a couple of Best Documentary awards. But the heart of the film is the people Gary and Larry Lane meet on their way to Dollywood – other Southern Baptists who have been disowned by their families and ridiculed for being gay.
5. “Morgan.” One of the biggest surprises in this year’s festival as I had no idea what to expect and had never heard of these actors before. But now I am taking notice of actor Leo Minaya who paints a picture of strengthen and determination as a young gay athlete who is left paraplegic after an accident. Minaya’s Morgan wants no pity but he comes to realize that he is his own worst enemy and we all need to lean on others sometimes – wheelchair or not. I’m also going to keep my eye out for future projects from director/co-writer Michael D. Akers. And I’m sticking to my guns for loving the film. Since I was so pleasantly surprised I did a little research after seeing “Morgan” and discovered people either love it or hate it. Hope you go to IMDB.com and give it your positive review.
6. “I Want Your Love.” Certainly not my favorite story or the best acting in the festival. But what “I Want Your Love” has going for it is realness. This movie interlinks several San Francisco stories of friends at different stages of relationships – from beginning to end to just friends, all centered around a key character, Jesse, leaving town as his performance artist career hasn’t taken off. What what director/writer Travis Mathews creates here is a movie of complete realness. It’s almost as if we’re watching a reality TV show – including all of the characters’ names are the same as the actors. And, like real life, these characters have real, unsimulated sex. Some might scream porn, but the frankness of the sex and the fact everyone is of different sizes (including penis) further makes the film real. Due to the explicit content and the fact that the US is a prudish country, you may not be seeing this on the big screen in this raw format so seek it out here.
7. “Zenne Dancer.” I didn’t think I’d like this movie as much as I did. But it haunts me. It’s the story of three unlikely friends – a German photographer, a gay male belly dancer and a bearish man who tries to conform to the strict religious beliefs of his family but having trouble denying who he is – a gay man. Well photographed and thought provoking, “Zenne” gets to me as I know the tragic outcome of religion covering up for hate crimes is true. This theme also can be seen in the other compelling “Mixed Kebab” and “My Brother the Devil,” but I can’t get some of the images of “Zenne” out of my head. Kudos to writer/co-director Caner Alper.
8. “Gayby.” A bear plays a supporting role in this film who also happens to be the writer/director, Jonathan Lisecki, is just one of the small reasons I am a fan of “Gayby.” I don’t like it because of the bear sighting. I just think it’s funny. “Gayby” tells the tale of a gay man and his female best friend who decide to have a baby together. Of course, the minute this plan goes into action, our hero Matt, played by the sexy Matthew Wilkas, starts meeting men, which easily complicates things. Sounds familiar but the humor and comradery among characters elevate the movie. And it really had me in stitches when Matt’s friend, Jenn Harris (a riot off-Broadway in “Silence!”) wants to get pregnant the natural way. The scene in bed with them trying to have sex is priceless.
9. “The Mountain.” Must admit that most of the lesbian-themed movies I have seen this year were lackluster. But this quiet, two character story from Norway builds painstakingly. Seemingly almost a travelogue for the beautiful mountainside that serves as a backdrop to the story of two women camping and hiking while trying to work out the problems in their relationship. The close quarters and wounds not yet healed hinder this recovery, but as they reach a plateau in the story (and the mountain) the audience is let in on a tragedy from years past and almost makes us join in the healing process.
And…the final movie I had to cheat and make a “tie” so I can actually make my list. Eleven movies worth seeking out just doesn’t have the same ring.
10. (tie) “Varla Jean and the Mushroom Heads.” What film festival would be complete without some over the top drag queen putting on a show within a show. Varla Jean has a field day as a washed up non-star who decides to pitch to the networks her idea of children’s show even though her picture is plaster through kids playgrounds as a possible sex offender makes the whole movie and idea inappropriate.. Throw in some no-talent costars for her kiddie show and the sexy former porn star Tom Judson and you can certainly count me in as a fan.
10. “Unconditional.” Being afraid to admit to even yourself that you’re gay has troubled many people – and some to the brink of insanity. Director Bryn Higgins paints an excellent character study of the internal struggle one faces when not being comfortable in their own skin and shows brass balls in casting heartthrob Christian Cooke in the rule of a seemingly well-to-do young British man who forces his “girlfriend” (Harry McEntire) to stay in drag as he literally goes berserk anytime McEntire tries to get out of woman’s clothing. This is one of those rare movies when you feel for both the antaogist and the protagonist as both actors dig deep in themselves to ensure we understand where they are coming from.
I also wanted to mention “Fourplay.” It’s four films linked together. The first one about a woman’s love for a dog is interesting but the final segment entitled San Francisco is absolutely wonderful. It’s the story of a Tranny sex worker who shows in visiting a client that not all tricks are sexual. The excellent Paul Soileau as the film’s prostitute shows great compassion and humility in serving a bed-ridden gentleman.
Frameline36 runs June 14-24. To get tickets, showtimes and and to learn more, go to www.frameline.org.